Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 3 out of 8
"No, sire. It is my second guard."
"Very good. I wish your assistance."
"I am at your command, sire."
"Is there a subaltern here?"
"Lieutenant de la Tremouille is at the side guard."
"Very well. You will place him in command."
"You will yourself go to Monsieur de Vivonne. You know his apartments?"
"If he is not there, you must go and seek him. Wherever he is, you must
find him within the hour."
"You will give him an order from me. At six o'clock he is to be in his
carriage at the east gate of the palace. His sister, Madame de
Montespan, will await him there, and he is charged by me to drive her to
the Chateau of Petit Bourg. You will tell him that he is answerable to
me for her arrival there."
"Yes, sire." De Catinat raised his sword in salute, and started upon his
The king passed on down the corridor, and opened a door which led him
into a magnificent ante-room, all one blaze of mirrors and gold,
furnished to a marvel with the most delicate ebony and silver suite, on
a deep red carpet of Aleppo, as soft and yielding as the moss of a
forest. In keeping with the furniture was the sole occupant of this
stately chamber--a little negro boy in a livery of velvet picked out
with silver tinsel, who stood as motionless as a small swart statuette
against the door which faced that through which the king entered.
"Is your mistress there?"
"She has just returned, sire."
"I wish to see her."
"Pardon, sire, but she--"
"Is everyone to thwart me to-day?" snarled the king, and taking the
little page by his velvet collar, he hurled him to the other side of the
room. Then, without knocking, he opened the door, and passed on into
the lady's boudoir.
It was a large and lofty room, very different to that from which he had
just come. Three long windows from ceiling to floor took up one side,
and through the delicate pink-tinted blinds the evening sun cast a
subdued and dainty light. Great gold candelabra glittered between the
mirrors upon the wall, and Le Brun had expended all his wealth of
colouring upon the ceiling, where Louis himself, in the character of
Jove, hurled down his thunder-bolts upon a writhing heap of Dutch and
Palatine Titans. Pink was the prevailing tone in tapestry, carpet, and
furniture, so that the whole room seemed to shine with the sweet tints
of the inner side of a shell, and when lit up, as it was then, formed
such a chamber as some fairy hero might have built up for his princess.
At the further side, prone upon an ottoman, her face buried in the
cushion, her beautiful white arms thrown over it, the rich coils of her
brown hair hanging in disorder across the long curve of her ivory neck,
lay, like a drooping flower, the woman whom he had come to discard.
At the sound of the closing door she had glanced up, and then, at the
sight of the king, she sprang to her feet and ran towards him, her hands
out, her blue eyes bedimmed with tears, her whole beautiful figure
softening into womanliness and humility.
"Ah, sire," she cried, with a pretty little sunburst of joy through her
tears, "then I have wronged you! I have wronged you cruelly! You have
kept your promise. You were but trying my faith! Oh, how could I have
said such words to you--how could I pain that noble heart! But you have
come after me to tell me that you have forgiven me!" She put her arms
forward with the trusting air of a pretty child who claims an embrace as
her due, but the king stepped swiftly back from her, and warned her away
from him with an angry gesture.
"All is over forever between us," he cried harshly. "Your brother will
await you at the east gate at six o'clock, and it is my command that you
wait there until you receive my further orders."
She staggered back as if he had struck her.
"Leave you!" she cried.
"You must leave the court."
"The court! Ay, willingly, this instant! But you! Ah, sire, you ask
what is impossible."
"I do not ask, madame; I order. Since you have learned to abuse your
position, your presence has become intolerable. The united kings of
Europe have never dared to speak to me as you have spoken to-day.
You have insulted me in my own palace--me, Louis, the king. Such things
are not done twice, madame. Your insolence has carried you too far this
time. You thought that because I was forbearing, I was therefore weak.
It appeared to you that if you only humoured me one moment, you might
treat me as if I were your equal the next, for that this poor puppet of
a king could always be bent this way or that. You see your mistake now.
At six o'clock you leave Versailles forever." His eyes flashed, and his
small upright figure seemed to swell in the violence of his indignation,
while she leaned away from him, one hand across her eyes and one thrown
forward, as if to screen her from that angry gaze.
"Oh, I have been wicked!" she cried. "I know it, I know it!"
"I am glad, madame, that you have the grace to acknowledge it."
"How could I speak to you so! How could I! Oh, that some blight may
come upon this unhappy tongue! I, who have had nothing but good from
you! I to insult you, who are the author of all my happiness! Oh,
sire, forgive me, forgive me! for pity's sake forgive me!"
Louis was by nature a kind-hearted man. His feelings were touched, and
his pride also was flattered by the abasement of this beautiful and
haughty woman. His other favourites had been amiable to all, but this
one was so proud, so unyielding, until she felt his master-hand.
His face softened somewhat in its expression as he glanced at her, but
he shook his head, and his voice was as firm as ever as he answered.
"It is useless, madame," said he. "I have thought this matter over for
a long time, and your madness to-day has only hurried what must in any
case have taken place. You must leave the palace."
"I will leave the palace. Say only that you forgive me. Oh, sire, I
cannot bear your anger. It crushes me down. I am not strong enough.
It is not banishment, it is death to which you sentence me. Think of
our long years of love, sire, and say that you forgive me. I have given
up all for your sake--husband, honour, everything. Oh, will you not
give your anger up for mine? My God, he weeps! Oh, I am saved, I am
"No, no, madame," cried the king, dashing his hand across his eyes.
"You see the weakness of the man, but you shall also see the firmness of
the king. As to your insults to-day, I forgive them freely, if that
will make you more happy in your retirement. But I owe a duty to my
subjects also, and that duty is to set them an example. We have thought
too little of such things. But a time has come when it is necessary to
review our past life, and to prepare for that which is to come."
"Ah, sire, you pain me. You are not yet in the prime of your years, and
you speak as though old age were upon you. In a score of years from now
it may be time for folk to say that age has made a change in your life."
The king winced. "Who says so?" he cried angrily.
"Oh, sire, it slipped from me unawares. Think no more of it. Nobody
says so. Nobody."
"You are hiding something from me. Who is it who says this?"
"Oh, do not ask me, sire."
"You said that it was reported that I had changed my life not through
religion, but through stress of years. Who said so?"
"Oh, sire, it was but foolish court gossip, all unworthy of your
attention. It was but the empty common talk of cavaliers who had
nothing else to say to gain a smile from their ladies."
"The common talk?" Louis flushed crimson.
"Have I, then, grown so aged? You have known me for nearly twenty
years. Do you see such changes in me?"
"To me, sire, you are as pleasing and as gracious as when you first won
the heart of Mademoiselle Tonnay-Charente."
The king smiled as he looked at the beautiful woman before him.
"In very truth," said he, "I can say that there has been no such great
change in Mademoiselle Tonnay-Charente either. But still it is best
that we should part, Francoise."
"If it will add aught to your happiness, sire, I shall go through it, be
it to my death."
"Now that is the proper spirit."
"You have but to name the place, sire--Petit Bourg, Chargny, or my own
convent of St. Joseph in the Faubourg St. Germain. What matter where
the flower withers, when once the sun has forever turned from it?
At least, the past is my own, and I shall live in the remembrance of the
days when none had come between us, and when your sweet love was all my
own. Be happy, sire, be happy, and think no more of what I said about
the foolish gossip of the court. Your life lies in the future. Mine is
in the past. Adieu, dear sire, adieu!" She threw forward her hands,
her eyes dimmed over, and she would have fallen had Louis not sprung
forward and caught her in his arms. Her beautiful head drooped upon his
shoulder, her breath was warm upon his cheek, and the subtle scent of
her hair was in his nostrils. His arm, as he held her, rose and fell
with her bosom, and he felt her heart, beneath his hand, fluttering like
a caged bird. Her broad white throat was thrown back, her eyes almost
closed, her lips just parted enough to show the line of pearly teeth,
her beautiful face not three inches from his own. And then suddenly the
eyelids quivered, and the great blue eyes looked up at him, lovingly,
appealingly, half deprecating, half challenging, her whole soul in a
glance. Did he move? or was it she? Who could tell? But their lips
had met in a long kiss, and then in another, and plans and resolutions
were streaming away from Louis like autumn leaves in the west wind.
"Then I am not to go? You would not have the heart to send me away,
"No, no; but you must not annoy me, Francoise."
"I had rather die than cause you an instant of grief. Oh, sire, I have
seen so little of you lately! And I love you so! It has maddened me.
And then that dreadful woman--"
"Oh, I must not speak against her. I will be civil for your sake even
to her, the widow of old Scarron."
"Yes, yes, you must be civil. I cannot have any unpleasantness."
"But you will stay with me, sire?" Her supple arms coiled themselves
round his neck. Then she held him for an instant at arm's length to
feast her eyes upon his face, and then drew him once more towards her.
"You will not leave me, dear sire. It is so long since you have been
The sweet face, the pink glow in the room, the hush of the evening, all
seemed to join in their sensuous influence. Louis sank down upon the
"I will stay," said he.
"And that carriage, dear sire, at the east door?"
"I have been very harsh with you, Francoise. You will forgive me.
Have you paper and pencil, that I may countermand the order?"
"They are here, sire, upon the side table. I have also a note which, if
I may leave you for an instant, I will write in the anteroom."
She swept out with triumph in her eyes. It had been a terrible fight,
but all the greater the credit of her victory. She took a little pink
slip of paper from an inlaid desk, and dashed off a few words upon it.
They were: "Should Madame de Maintenon have any message for his Majesty,
he will be for the next few hours in the room of Madame de Montespan."
This she addressed to her rival, and it was sent on the spot, together
with the king's order, by the hands of the little black page.
THE SUN REAPPEARS.
For nearly a week the king was constant to his new humour. The routine
of his life remained unchanged, save that it was the room of the frail
beauty, rather than of Madame de Maintenon, which attracted him in the
afternoon. And in sympathy with this sudden relapse into his old life,
his coats lost something of their sombre hue, and fawn-colour,
buff-colour, and lilac began to replace the blacks and the blues.
A little gold lace budded out upon his hats also and at the trimmings of
his pockets, while for three days on end his _prie-dieu_ at the royal
chapel had been unoccupied. His walk was brisker, and he gave a
youthful flourish to his cane as a defiance to those who had seen in his
reformation the first symptoms of age. Madame had known her man well
when she threw out that artful insinuation.
And as the king brightened, so all the great court brightened too.
The _salons_ began to resume their former splendour, and gay coats and
glittering embroidery which had lain in drawers for years were seen once
more in the halls of the palace. In the chapel, Bourdaloue preached in
vain to empty benches, but a ballet in the grounds was attended by the
whole court, and received with a frenzy of enthusiasm. The Montespan
ante-room was crowded every morning with men and women who had some suit
to be urged, while her rival's chambers were as deserted as they had
been before the king first turned a gracious look upon her. Faces which
had been long banished the court began to reappear in the corridors and
gardens unchecked and unrebuked, while the black cassock of the Jesuit
and the purple soutane of the bishop were less frequent colours in the
But the Church party, who, if they were the champions of bigotry, were
also those of virtue, were never seriously alarmed at this relapse.
The grave eyes of priest or of prelate followed Louis in his escapade as
wary huntsmen might watch a young deer which gambols about in the meadow
under the impression that it is masterless, when every gap and path is
netted, and it is in truth as much in their hands as though it were
lying bound before them. They knew how short a time it would be before
some ache, some pain, some chance word, would bring his mortality home
to him again, and envelop him once more in those superstitious terrors
which took the place of religion in his mind. They waited, therefore,
and they silently planned how the prodigal might best be dealt with on
To this end it was that his confessor, Pere la Chaise, and Bossuet, the
great Bishop of Meaux, waited one morning upon Madame de Maintenon in
her chamber. With a globe beside her, she was endeavouring to teach
geography to the lame Due du Maine and the mischievous little Comte de
Toulouse, who had enough of their father's disposition to make them
averse to learning, and of their mother's to cause them to hate any
discipline or restraint. Her wonderful tact, however, and her
unwearying patience had won the love and confidence even of these little
perverse princes, and it was one of Madame de Montespan's most bitter
griefs that not only her royal lover, but even her own children, turned
away from the brilliancy and riches of her salon to pass their time in
the modest apartment of her rival.
Madame de Maintenon dismissed her two pupils, and received the
ecclesiastics with the mixture of affection and respect which was due to
those who were not only personal friends, but great lights of the
Gallican Church. She had suffered the minister Louvois to sit upon a
stool in her presence, but the two chairs were allotted to the priests
now, and she insisted upon reserving the humbler seat for herself. The
last few days had cast a pallor over her face which spiritualised and
refined the features, but she wore unimpaired the expression of sweet
serenity which was habitual to her.
"I see, my dear daughter, that you have sorrowed," said Bossuet,
glancing at her with a kindly and yet searching eye.
"I have indeed, your Grace. All last night I spent in prayer that this
trial may pass away from us."
"And yet you have no need for fear, madame--none, I assure you. Others
may think that your influence has ceased; but we, who know the king's
heart, we think otherwise. A few days may pass, a few weeks at the
most, and once more it will be upon your rising fortunes that every eye
in France will turn."
The lady's brow clouded, and she glanced at the prelate as though his
speech were not altogether to her taste. "I trust that pride does not
lead me astray," she said. "But if I can read my own soul aright, there
is no thought of myself in the grief which now tears my heart. What is
power to me? What do I desire? A little room, leisure for my
devotions, a pittance to save me from want--what more can I ask for?
Why, then, should I covet power? If I am sore at heart, it is not for
any poor loss which I have sustained. I think no more of it than of the
snapping of one of the threads on yonder tapestry frame. It is for the
king I grieve--for the noble heart, the kindly soul, which might rise so
high, and which is dragged so low, like a royal eagle with some foul
weight which ever hampers its flight. It is for him and for France that
my days are spent in sorrow and my nights upon my knees."
"For all that, my daughter, you are ambitious."
It was the Jesuit who had spoken. His voice was clear and cold, and his
piercing gray eyes seemed to read into the depths of her soul.
"You may be right, father. God guard me from self-esteem. And yet I do
not think that I am. The king, in his goodness, has offered me titles--
I have refused them; money--I have returned it. He has deigned to ask
my advice in matters of state, and I have withheld it. Where, then, is
"In your heart, my daughter. But it is not a sinful ambition. It is
not an ambition of this world. Would you not love to turn the king
"I would give my life for it."
"And there is your ambition. Ah, can I not read your noble soul?
Would you not love to see the Church reign pure and serene over all this
realm--to see the poor housed, the needy helped, the wicked turned from
their ways, and the king ever the leader in all that is noble and good?
Would you not love that, my daughter?"
Her cheeks had flushed, and her eyes shone as she looked at the gray
face of the Jesuit, and saw the picture which his words had conjured up
before her. "Ah, that would be joy indeed!" she cried.
"And greater joy still to know, not from the mouths of the people, but
from the voice of your own heart in the privacy of your chamber, that
you had been the cause of it, that your influence had brought this
blessing upon the king and upon the country."
"I would die to do it."
"We wish you to do what may be harder. We wish you to live to do it."
"Ah!" She glanced from one to the other with questioning eyes.
"My daughter," said Bossuet solemnly, leaning forward, with his broad
white hand outstretched and his purple pastoral ring sparkling in the
sunlight, "it is time for plain speaking. It is in the interests of the
Church that we do it. None hear, and none shall ever hear, what passes
between us now. Regard us, if you will, as two confessors, with whom
your secret is inviolable. I call it a secret, and yet it is none to
us, for it is our mission to read the human heart. You love the king."
"Your Grace!" She started, and a warm blush, mantling up in her pale
cheeks, deepened and spread until it tinted her white forehead and her
"You love the king."
"Your Grace--father!" She turned in confusion from one to the other.
"There is no shame in loving, my daughter. The shame lies only in
yielding to love. I say again that you love the king."
"At least I have never told him so," she faltered.
"And will you never?"
"May heaven wither my tongue first!"
"But consider, my daughter. Such love in a soul like yours is heaven's
gift, and sent for some wise purpose. This human love is too often but
a noxious weed which blights the soil it grows in, but here it is a
gracious flower, all fragrant with humility and virtue."
"Alas! I have tried to tear it from my heart."
"Nay; rather hold it firmly rooted there. Did the king but meet with
some tenderness from you, some sign that his own affection met with an
answer from your heart, it might be that this ambition which you profess
would be secured, and that Louis, strengthened by the intimate
companionship of your noble nature, might live in the spirit as well as
in the forms of the Church. All this might spring from the love which
you hide away as though it bore the brand of shame."
The lady half rose, glancing from the prelate to the priest with eyes
which had a lurking horror in their depths.
"Can I have understood you!" she gasped. "What meaning lies behind
these words? You cannot counsel me to--"
The Jesuit had risen, and his spare figure towered above her.
"My daughter, we give no counsel which is unworthy of our office.
We speak for the interests of Holy Church, and those interests demand
that you should marry the king."
"Marry the king!" The little room swam round her. "Marry the king!"
"There lies the best hope for the future. We see in you a second Jeanne
d'Arc, who will save both France and France's king."
Madame sat silent for a few moments. Her face had regained its
composure, and her eyes were bent vacantly upon her tapestry frame as
she turned over in her mind all that was involved in the suggestion.
"But surely--surely this could never be," she said at last, "Why should
we plan that which can never come to pass?"
"What King of France has married a subject? See how every princess of
Europe stretches out her hand to him. The Queen of France must be of
queenly blood, even as the last was."
"All this may be overcome."
"And then there are the reasons of state. If the king marry, it should
be to form a powerful alliance, to cement a friendship with a neighbour
nation, or to gain some province which may be the bride's dowry.
What is my dowry? A widow's pension and a work-box." She laughed
bitterly, and yet glanced eagerly at her companions, as one who wished
to be confuted.
"Your dowry, my daughter, would be those gifts of body and of mind with
which heaven has endowed you. The king has money enough, and the king
has provinces enough. As to the state, how can the state be better
served than by the assurance that the king will be saved in future from
such sights as are to be seen in this palace to-day?"
"Oh, if it could be so! But think, father, think of those about him--
the dauphin, monsieur his brother, his ministers. You know how little
this would please them, and how easy it is for them to sway his mind.
No, no; it is a dream, father, and it can never be."
The faces of the two ecclesiastics, who had dismissed her other
objections with a smile and a wave, clouded over at this, as though she
had at last touched upon the real obstacle.
"My daughter," said the Jesuit gravely, "that is a matter which you may
leave to the Church. It may be that we, too, have some power over the
king's mind, and that we may lead him in the right path, even though
those of his own blood would fain have it otherwise. The future only
can show with whom the power lies. But you? Love and duty both draw
you one way now, and the Church may count upon you."
"To my last breath, father."
"And you upon the Church. It will serve you, if you in turn will but
"What higher wish could I have?"
"You will be our daughter, our queen, our champion, and you will heal
the wounds of the suffering Church."
"Ah! if I could!"
"But you can. While there is heresy within the land there can be no
peace or rest for the faithful. It is the speck of mould which will in
time, if it be not pared off, corrupt the whole fruit."
"What would you have, then, father?"
"The Huguenots must go. They must be driven forth. The goats must be
divided from the sheep. The king is already in two minds. Louvois is
our friend now. If you are with us, then all will be well."
"But, father, think how many there are!"
"The more reason that they should be dealt with."
"And think, too, of their sufferings should they be driven forth."
"Their cure lies in their own hands."
"That is true. And yet my heart softens for them."
Pere la Chaise and the bishop shook their heads. Nature had made them
both kind and charitable men, but the heart turns to flint when the
blessing of religion is changed to the curse of sect.
"You would befriend God's enemies then?"
"No, no; not if they are indeed so."
"Can you doubt it? Is it possible that your heart still turns towards
the heresy of your youth?"
"No, father; but it is not in nature to forget that my father and my
"Nay, they have answered for their own sins. Is it possible that the
Church has been mistaken in you? Do you then refuse the first favour
which she asks of you? You would accept her aid, and yet you would give
none in return."
Madame de Maintenon rose with the air of one who has made her
resolution. "You are wiser than I," said she, "and to you have been
committed the interests of the Church. I will do what you advise."
"You promise it?"
Her two visitors threw up their hands together. "It is a blessed day,"
they cried, "and generations yet unborn will learn to deem it so."
She sat half stunned by the prospect which was opening out in front of
her. Ambitious she had, as the Jesuit had surmised, always been--
ambitious for the power which would enable her to leave the world better
than she found it. And this ambition she had already to some extent
been able to satisfy, for more than once she had swayed both king and
kingdom. But to marry the king--to marry the man for whom she would
gladly lay down her life, whom in the depths of her heart she loved in
as pure and as noble a fashion as woman ever yet loved man--that was
indeed a thing above her utmost hopes. She knew her own mind, and she
knew his. Once his wife, she could hold him to good, and keep every
evil influence away from him. She was sure of it. She should be no
weak Maria Theresa, but rather, as the priest had said, a new Jeanne
d'Arc, come to lead France and France's king into better ways. And if,
to gain this aim, she had to harden her heart against the Huguenots, at
least the fault, if there were one, lay with those who made this
condition rather than with herself. The king's wife! The heart of the
woman and the soul of the enthusiast both leaped at the thought.
But close at the heels of her joy there came a sudden revulsion to doubt
and despondency. Was not all this fine prospect a mere day-dream? and
how could these men be so sure that they held the king in the hollow of
their hand? The Jesuit read the fears which dulled the sparkle of her
eyes, and answered her thoughts before she had time to put them into
"The Church redeems its pledges swiftly," said he. "And you, my
daughter, you must be as prompt when your own turn comes."
"I have promised, father."
"Then it is for us to perform. You will remain in your room all
"The king already hesitates. I spoke with him this morning, and his
mind was full of blackness and despair. His better self turns in
disgust from his sins, and it is now when the first hot fit of
repentance is just coming upon him that he may best be moulded to our
ends. I have to see and speak with him once more, and I go from your
room to his. And when I have spoken, he will come from his room to
yours, or I have studied his heart for twenty years in vain. We leave
you now, and you will not see us, but you will see the effects of what
we do, and you will remember your pledge to us." They bowed low to her
both together, and left her to her thoughts.
An hour passed, and then a second one, as she sat in her _fauteuil_, her
tapestry before her, but her hands listless upon her lap, waiting for
her fate. Her life's future was now being settled for her, and she was
powerless to turn it in one way or the other. Daylight turned to the
pearly light of evening, and that again to dusk, but she still sat
waiting in the shadow. Sometimes as a step passed in the corridor she
would glance expectantly towards the door, and the light of welcome
would spring up in her gray eyes, only to die away again into
disappointment. At last, however, there came a quick sharp tread, crisp
and authoritative, which brought her to her feet with flushed cheeks and
her heart beating wildly. The door opened, and she saw outlined against
the gray light of the outer passage the erect and graceful figure of the
"Sire! One instant, and mademoiselle will light the lamp."
"Do not call her." He entered and closed the door behind him.
"Francoise, the dusk is welcome to me, because it screens me from the
reproaches which must lie in your glance, even if your tongue be too
kindly to speak them."
"Reproaches, sire! God forbid that I should utter them!"
"When I last left you, Francoise, it was with a good resolution in my
mind. I tried to carry it out, and I failed--I failed. I remember that
you warned me. Fool that I was not to follow your advice!"
"We are all weak and mortal, sire. Who has not fallen? Nay, sire, it
goes to my heart to see you thus."
He was standing by the fireplace, his face buried in his hands, and she
could tell by the catch of his breath that he was weeping. All the pity
of her woman's nature went out to that silent and repenting figure dimly
seen in the failing light. She put out her hand with a gesture of
sympathy, and it rested for an instant upon his velvet sleeve. The next
he had clasped it between his own, and she made no effort to release it.
"I cannot do without you, Francoise," he cried. "I am the loneliest man
in all this world, like one who lives on a great mountain-peak, with
none to bear him company. Who have I for a friend? Whom can I rely
upon? Some are for the Church; some are for their families; most are
for themselves. But who of them all is single-minded? You are my
better self, Francoise; you are my guardian angel. What the good
father says is true, and the nearer I am to you the further am I from
all that is evil. Tell me, Francoise, do you love me?"
"I have loved you for years, sire." Her voice was low but clear--the
voice of a woman to whom coquetry was abhorrent.
"I had hoped it, Francoise, and yet it thrills me to hear you say it.
I know that wealth and title have no attraction for you, and that your
heart turns rather towards the convent than the palace. Yet I ask you
to remain in the palace, and to reign there. Will you be my wife,
And so the moment had in very truth come. She paused for an instant,
only an instant, before taking this last great step; but even that was
too long for the patience of the king.
"Will you not, Francoise?" he cried, with a ring of fear in his voice.
"May God make me worthy of such an honour, sire!" said she. "And here I
swear that if heaven double my life, every hour shall be spent in the
one endeavour to make you a happier man!"
She had knelt down, and the king, still holding her hand, knelt down
"And I swear too," he cried, "that if my days also are doubled, you will
now and forever be the one and only woman for me."
And so their double oath was taken, an oath which was to be tested in
the future, for each did live almost double their years, and yet neither
broke the promise made hand in hand on that evening in the shadow-girt
THE KING RECEIVES.
It may have been that Mademoiselle Nanon, the faithful _confidante_ of
Madame de Maintenon, had learned something of this interview, or it may
be that Pere la Chaise, with the shrewdness for which his Order is
famous, had come to the conclusion that publicity was the best means of
holding the king to his present intention; but whatever the source, it
was known all over the court next day that the old favourite was again
in disgrace, and that there was talk of a marriage between the king and
the governess of his children. It was whispered at the _petit lever_,
confirmed at the _grand entree_, and was common gossip by the time that
the king had returned from chapel. Back into wardrobe and drawer went
the flaring silks and the feathered hats, and out once more came the
sombre coat and the matronly dress. Scudery and Calpernedi gave place
to the missal and St. Thomas a Kempis, while Bourdaloue, after preaching
for a week to empty benches, found his chapel packed to the last seat
with weary gentlemen and taper-bearing ladies. By midday there was none
in the court who had not heard the tidings, save only Madame de
Montespan, who, alarmed by her lover's absence, had remained in haughty
seclusion in her room, and knew nothing of what had passed. Many there
were who would have loved to carry her the tidings; but the king's
changes had been frequent of late, and who would dare to make a mortal
enemy of one who might, ere many weeks were past, have the lives and
fortunes of the whole court in the hollow of her hand?
Louis, in his innate selfishness, had been so accustomed to regard every
event entirely from the side of how it would affect himself, that it had
never struck him that his long-suffering family, who had always yielded
to him the absolute obedience which he claimed as his right, would
venture to offer any opposition to his new resolution. He was
surprised, therefore, when his brother demanded a private interview that
afternoon, and entered his presence without the complaisant smile and
humble air with which he was wont to appear before him.
Monsieur was a curious travesty of his elder brother. He was shorter,
but he wore enormously high boot-heels, which brought him to a fair
stature. In figure he had none of that grace which marked the king, nor
had he the elegant hand and foot which had been the delight of
sculptors. He was fat, waddled somewhat in his walk, and wore an
enormous black wig, which rolled down in rows and rows of curls over his
shoulders. His face was longer and darker than the king's, and his nose
more prominent, though he shared with his brother the large brown eyes
which each had inherited from Anne of Austria. He had none of the
simple and yet stately taste which marked the dress of the monarch, but
his clothes were all tagged over with fluttering ribbons, which rustled
behind him as he walked, and clustered so thickly over his feet as to
conceal them from view. Crosses, stars, jewels, and insignia were
scattered broadcast over his person, and the broad blue ribbon of the
Order of the Holy Ghost was slashed across his coat, and was gathered at
the end into a great bow, which formed the incongruous support of a
diamond-hilted sword. Such was the figure which rolled towards the
king, bearing in his right hand his many-feathered beaver, and
appearing in his person, as he was in his mind, an absurd burlesque of
"Why, monsieur, you seem less gay than usual to-day," said the king,
with a smile. "Your dress, indeed, is bright, but your brow is clouded.
I trust that all is well with Madame and with the Duc de Chartres?"
"Yes, sire, they are well; but they are sad like myself, and from the
"Indeed! and why?"
"Have I ever failed in my duty as your younger brother, sire?"
"Never, Philippe, never!" said the king, laying his hand affectionately
upon the other's shoulder. "You have set an excellent example to my
"Then why set a slight upon me?"
"Yes, sire, I say it is a slight. We are of royal blood, and our wives
are of royal blood also. You married the Princess of Spain; I married
the Princess of Bavaria. It was a condescension, but still I did it.
My first wife was the Princess of England. How can we admit into a
house which has formed such alliances as these a woman who is the widow
of a hunchback singer, a mere lampooner, a man whose name is a byword
The king had stared in amazement at his brother, but his anger now
overcame his astonishment.
"Upon my word!" he cried; "upon my word! I have said just now that you
have been an excellent brother, but I fear that I spoke a little
prematurely. And so you take upon yourself to object to the lady whom I
select as my wife!"
"I do, sire."
"And by what right?"
"By the right of the family honour, sire, which is as much mine as
"Man," cried the king furiously, "have you not yet learned that within
this kingdom I am the fountain of honour, and that whomsoever I may
honour becomes by that very fact honourable? Were I to take a
cinder-wench out of the Rue Poissonniere, I could at my will raise her
up until the highest in France would be proud to bow down before her.
Do you not know this?"
"No, I do not," cried his brother, with all the obstinacy of a weak man
who has at last been driven to bay. "I look upon it as a slight upon me
and a slight upon my wife."
"Your wife! I have every respect for Charlotte Elizabeth of Bavaria,
but how is she superior to one whose grandfather was the dear friend and
comrade in arms of Henry the Great? Enough! I will not condescend to
argue such a matter with you! Begone, and do not return to my presence
until you have learned not to interfere in my affairs."
"For all that, my wife shall not know her!" snarled monsieur; and then,
as his brother took a fiery step or two towards him, he turned and
scuttled out of the room as fast as his awkward gait and high heels
would allow him.
But the king was to have no quiet that day. If Madame de Maintenon's
friends had rallied to her yesterday, her enemies were active to-day.
Monsieur had hardly disappeared before there rushed into the room a
youth who bore upon his rich attire every sign of having just arrived
from a dusty journey. He was pale-faced and auburn-haired, with
features which would have been strikingly like the king's if it were not
that his nose had been disfigured in his youth. The king's face had
lighted up at the sight of him, but it darkened again as he hurried
forward and threw himself down at his feet.
"Oh, sire," he cried, "spare us this grief--spare us this humiliation!
I implore you to pause before you do what will bring dishonour upon
yourself and upon us!"
The king started back from him, and paced angrily up and down the room.
"This is intolerable!" he cried. "It was bad from my brother, but worse
from my son. You are in a conspiracy with him, Louis. Monsieur has
told you to act this part."
The dauphin rose to his feet and looked steadfastly at his angry father.
"I have not seen my uncle," he said. "I was at Meudon when I heard this
news--this dreadful news--and I sprang upon my horse, sire, and galloped
over to implore you to think again before you drag our royal house so
"You are insolent, Louis."
"I do not mean to be so, sire. But consider, sire, that my mother was a
queen, and that it would be strange indeed if for a step-mother I had
The king raised his hand with a gesture of authority which checked the
word upon his lips.
"Silence!" he cried, "or you may say that which would for ever set a
gulf between us. Am I to be treated worse than my humblest subject, who
is allowed to follow his own bent in his private affairs?"
"This is not your own private affair, sire; all that you do reflects
upon your family. The great deeds of your reign have given a new glory
to the name of Bourbon. Oh, do not mar it now, sire! I implore it of
you upon my bended knees!"
"You talk like a fool!" cried his father roughly. "I propose to marry a
virtuous and charming lady of one of the oldest noble families of
France, and you talk as if I were doing something degrading and unheard
of. What is your objection to this lady?"
"That she is the daughter of a man whose vices were well known, that her
brother is of the worst repute, that she has led the life of an
adventuress, is the widow of a deformed scribbler, and that she occupies
a menial position in the palace."
The king had stamped with his foot upon the carpet more than once during
this frank address, but his anger blazed into a fury at its conclusion.
"Do you dare," he cried, with flashing eyes, "to call the charge of my
children a menial position? I say that there is no higher in the
kingdom. Go back to Meudon, sir, this instant, and never dare to open
your mouth again on the subject. Away, I say! When, in God's good
time, you are king of this country, you may claim your own way, but
until then do not venture to cross the plans of one who is both your
parent and your monarch."
The young man bowed low, and walked with dignity from the chamber; but
he turned with his hand upon the door.
"The Abbe Fenelon came with me, sire. Is it your pleasure to see him?"
"Away! away!" cried the king furiously, still striding up and down the
room with angry face and flashing eyes. The dauphin left the cabinet,
and was instantly succeeded by a tall thin priest, some forty years of
age, strikingly handsome, with a pale refined face, large well-marked
features, and the easy deferential bearing of one who has had a long
training in courts. The king turned sharply upon him, and looked hard
at him with a distrustful eye.
"Good-day, Abbe Fenelon," said he. "May I ask what the object of this
"You have had the condescension, sire, on more than one occasion, to ask
my humble advice, and even to express yourself afterwards as being
pleased that you had acted upon it."
"Well? Well? Well?" growled the monarch.
"If rumour says truly, sire, you are now at a crisis when a word of
impartial counsel might be of value to you. Need I say that it
"Tut! tut! Why all these words?" cried the king. "You have been sent
here by others to try and influence me against Madame de Maintenon."
"Sire, I have had nothing but kindness from that lady. I esteem and
honour her more than any lady in France."
"In that case, abbe, you will, I am sure, be glad to hear that I am
about to marry her. Good-day, abbe. I regret that I have not longer
time to devote to this very interesting conversation."
"When my mind is in doubt, abbe, I value your advice very highly.
On this occasion my mind is happily _not_ in doubt. I have the honour
to wish you a very good-day."
The king's first hot anger had died away by now, and had left behind it
a cold, bitter spirit which was even more formidable to his antagonists.
The abbe, glib of tongue and fertile of resource as he was, felt himself
to be silenced and overmatched. He walked backwards, with three long
bows, as was the custom of the court, and departed.
But the king had little breathing space. His assailants knew that with
persistence they had bent his will before, and they trusted that they
might do so again. It was Louvois, the minister, now who entered the
room, with his majestic port, his lofty bearing, his huge wig, and his
aristocratic face, which, however, showed some signs of trepidation as
it met the baleful eye of the king.
"Well, Louvois, what now?" he asked impatiently. "Has some new state
"There is but one new state matter which has arisen, sire, but it is of
such importance as to banish all others from our mind."
"Your marriage, sire."
"You disapprove of it?"
"Oh, sire, can I help it?"
"Out of my room, sir! Am I to be tormented to death by your
importunities? What! You dare to linger when I order you to go!"
The king advanced angrily upon the minister, but Louvois suddenly
flashed out his rapier. Louis sprang back with alarm and amazement upon
his face, but it was the hilt and not the point which was presented to
"Pass it through my heart, sire!" the minister cried, falling upon his
knees, his whole great frame in a quiver with emotion. "I will not live
to see your glory fade!"
"Great heaven!" shrieked Louis, throwing the sword down upon the ground,
and raising his hands to his temples, "I believe that this is a
conspiracy to drive me mad. Was ever a man so tormented in his life?
This will be a private marriage, man, and it will not affect the state
in the least degree. Do you hear me? Have you understood me? What more
do you want?"
Louvois gathered himself up, and shot his rapier back into its sheath.
"Your Majesty is determined?" he asked.
"Then I say no more. I have done my duty." He bowed his head as one in
deep dejection when he departed, but in truth his heart was lightened
within him, for he had the king's assurance that the woman whom he hated
would, even though his wife, not sit on the throne of the Queens of
These repeated attacks, if they had not shaken the king's resolution,
had at least irritated and exasperated him to the utmost. Such a blast
of opposition was a new thing to a man whose will had been the one law
of the land. It left him ruffled and disturbed, and without regretting
his resolution, he still, with unreasoning petulance, felt inclined to
visit the inconvenience to which he had been put upon those whose advice
he had followed. He wore accordingly no very cordial face when the
usher in attendance admitted the venerable figure of Father la Chaise,
"I wish you all happiness, sire," said the Jesuit, "and I congratulate
you from my heart that you have taken the great step which must lead to
content both in this world and the next."
"I have had neither happiness nor contentment yet, father," answered the
king peevishly. "I have never been so pestered in my life. The whole
court has been on its knees to me to entreat me to change my intention."
The Jesuit looked at him anxiously out of his keen gray eyes.
"Fortunately, your Majesty is a man of strong will," said he, "and not
to be so easily swayed as they think."
"No, no, I did not give an inch. But still, it must be confessed that
it is very unpleasant to have so many against one. I think that most
men would have been shaken."
"Now is the time to stand firm, sire; Satan rages to see you passing out
of his power, and he stirs up all his friends and sends all his
emissaries to endeavour to detain you."
But the king was not in a humour to be easily consoled.
"Upon my word, father," said he, "you do not seem to have much respect
for my family. My brother and my son, with the Abbe Fenelon and the
Minister of War, are the emissaries to whom you allude."
"Then there is the more credit to your Majesty for having resisted them.
You have done nobly, sire. You have earned the praise and blessing of
"I trust that what I have done is right, father," said the king gravely.
"I should be glad to see you again later in the evening, but at present
I desire a little leisure for solitary thought."
Father la Chaise left the cabinet with a deep distrust of the king's
intentions. It was obvious that the powerful appeals which had been
made to him had shaken if they had failed to alter his resolution.
What would be the result if more were made? And more would be made;
that was as certain as that darkness follows light. Some master-card
must be played now which would bring the matter to a crisis at once, for
every day of delay was in favour of their opponents. To hesitate was to
lose. All must be staked upon one final throw.
The Bishop of Meaux was waiting in the ante-room, and Father la Chaise
in a few brief words let him see the danger of the situation and the
means by which they should meet it. Together they sought Madame de
Maintenon in her room. She had discarded the sombre widow's dress which
she had chosen since her first coming to court, and wore now, as more in
keeping with her lofty prospects, a rich yet simple costume of white
satin with bows of silver serge. A single diamond sparkled in the thick
coils of her dark tresses. The change had taken years from a face and
figure which had always looked much younger than her age, and as the two
plotters looked upon her perfect complexion, her regular features, so
calm and yet so full of refinement, and the exquisite grace of her
figure and bearing, they could not but feel that if they failed in their
ends, it was not for want of having a perfect tool at their command.
She had risen at their entrance, and her expression showed that she had
read upon their faces something of the anxiety which filled their minds.
"You have evil news!" she cried.
"No, no, my daughter." It was the bishop who spoke. "But we must be on
our guard against our enemies, who would turn the king away from you if
Her face shone at the mention of her lover.
"Ah, you do not know!" she cried. "He has made a vow. I would trust
him as I would trust myself. I know that he will be true."
But the Jesuit's intellect was arrayed against the intuition of the
"Our opponents are many and strong," said he shaking his head.
"Even if the king remain firm, he will be annoyed at every turn, so that
he will feel his life is darker instead of lighter, save, of course,
madame, for that brightness which you cannot fail to bring with you.
We must bring the matter to an end."
"And how, father?"
"The marriage must be at once!"
"Yes. This very night, if possible."
"Oh, father, you ask too much. The king would never consent to such a
"It is he that will propose it."
"Because we shall force him to. It is only thus that all the opposition
can be stopped. When it is done, the court will accept it. Until it is
done, they will resist it."
"What would you have me do, then, father?"
"Resign the king."
"Resign him!" She turned as pale as a lily, and looked at him in
"It is the best course, madame."
"Ah, father, I might have done it last month, last week, even yesterday
morning. But now--oh, it would break my heart!"
"Fear not, madame. We advise you for the best. Go to the king now, at
once. Say to him that you have heard that he has been subjected to much
annoyance upon your account, that you cannot bear to think that you
should be a cause of dissension in his own family, and therefore you
will release him from his promise, and will withdraw yourself from the
"Go now? At once?"
"Yes, without loss of an instant."
She cast a light mantle about her shoulders.
"I follow your advice," she said. "I believe that you are wiser than I.
But, oh, if he should take me at my word!"
"He will not take you at your word."
"It is a terrible risk."
"But such an end as this cannot be gained without risks. Go, my child,
and may heaven's blessing go with you!"
THE KING HAS IDEAS.
The king had remained alone in his cabinet, wrapped in somewhat gloomy
thoughts, and pondering over the means by which he might carry out his
purpose and yet smooth away the opposition which seemed to be so
strenuous and so universal. Suddenly there came a gentle tap at the
door, and there was the woman who was in his thoughts, standing in the
twilight before him. He sprang to his feet and held out his hands with
a smile which would have reassured her had she doubted his constancy.
"Francoise! You here! Then I have at last a welcome visitor, and it is
the first one to-day."
"Sire, I fear that you have been troubled."
"I have indeed, Francoise."
"But I have a remedy for it."
"And what is that?"
"I shall leave the court, sire, and you shall think no more of what has
passed between us. I have brought discord where I meant to bring peace.
Let me retire to St. Cyr, or to the Abbey of Fontevrault, and you will
no longer be called upon to make such sacrifices for my sake."
The king turned deathly pale, and clutched at her shawl with a trembling
hand, as though he feared that she was about to put her resolution into
effect that very instant. For years his mind had accustomed itself to
lean upon hers. He had turned to her whenever he needed support, and
even when, as in the last week, he had broken away from her for a time,
it was still all-important to him to know that she was there, the
faithful friend, ever forgiving, ever soothing, waiting for him with her
ready counsel and sympathy. But that she should leave him now, leave
him altogether, such a thought had never occurred to him, and it struck
him with a chill of surprised alarm.
"You cannot mean it, Francoise," he cried, in a trembling voice.
"No, no, it is impossible that you are in earnest."
"It would break my heart to leave you, sire, but it breaks it also to
think that for my sake you are estranged from your own family and
"Tut! Am I not the king? Shall I not take my own course without heed
to them? No, no, Francoise, you must not leave me! You must stay with
me and be my wife." He could hardly speak for agitation, and he still
grasped at her dress to detain her. She had been precious to him
before, but was far more so now that there seemed to be a possibility of
his losing her. She felt the strength of her position, and used it to
"Some time must elapse before our wedding, sire. Yet during all that
interval you will be exposed to these annoyances. How can I be happy
when I feel that I have brought upon you so long a period of
"And why should it be so long, Francoise?"
"A day would be too long, sire, for you to be unhappy through my fault.
It is a misery to me to think of it. Believe me, it would be better
that I should leave you."
"Never! You shall not! Why should we even wait a day, Francoise? I am
ready. You are ready. Why should we not be married now?"
"At once! Oh, sire!"
"We shall. It is my wish. It is my order. That is my answer to those
who would drive me. They shall know nothing of it until it is done, and
then let us see which of them will dare to treat my wife with anything
but respect. Let it be done secretly, Francoise. I will send in a
trusty messenger this very night for the Archbishop of Paris, and I
swear that, if all France stand in the way, he shall make us man and
wife before he departs."
"Is it your will, sire?"
"It is; and ah, I can see by your eyes that it is yours also! We shall
not lose a moment, Francoise. What a blessed thought of mine, which
will silence their tongues forever! When it is ready they may know, but
not before. To your room, then, dearest of friends and truest of women!
When we meet again, it will be to form a bond which all this court and
all this kingdom shall not be able to loose."
The king was all on fire with the excitement of this new resolution.
He had lost his air of doubt and discontent, and he paced swiftly about
the room with a smiling face and shining eyes. Then he touched a small
gold bell, which summoned Bontems, his private body-servant.
"What o'clock is it, Bontems?"
"It is nearly six, sire."
"Hum!" The king considered for some moments. "Do you know where Captain
de Catinat is, Bontems?"
"He was in the grounds, sire, but I heard that he would ride back to
"Does he ride alone?"
"He has one friend with him."
"Who is this friend? An officer of the guards?"
"No, sire; it is a stranger from over the seas, from America, as I
understand, who has stayed with him of late, and to whom Monsieur de
Catinat has been showing the wonders of your Majesty's palace."
"A stranger! So much the better. Go, Bontems, and bring them both to
"I trust that they have not started, sire. I will see." He hurried
off, and was back in ten minutes in the cabinet once more.
"I have been fortunate, sire. Their horses had been led out and their
feet were in the stirrups when I reached them."
"Where are they, then?"
"They await your Majesty's orders in the ante-room."
"Show them in, Bontems, and give admission to none, not even to the
minister, until they have left me."
To De Catinat an audience with the monarch was a common incident of his
duties, but it was with profound astonishment that he learned from
Bontems that his friend and companion was included in the order. He was
eagerly endeavouring to whisper into the young American's ear some
precepts and warnings as to what to do and what to avoid, when Bontems
reappeared and ushered them into the presence.
It was with a feeling of curiosity, not unmixed with awe, that Amos
Green, to whom Governor Dongan, of New York, had been the highest
embodiment of human power, entered the private chamber of the greatest
monarch in Christendom. The magnificence of the ante-chamber in which
he had waited, the velvets, the paintings, the gildings, with the throng
of gaily dressed officials and of magnificent guardsmen, had all
impressed his imagination, and had prepared him for some wondrous figure
robed and crowned, a fit centre for such a scene. As his eyes fell upon
a quietly dressed, bright-eyed man, half a head shorter than himself,
with a trim dapper figure, and an erect carriage, he could not help
glancing round the room to see if this were indeed the monarch, or if it
were some other of those endless officials who interposed themselves
between him and the other world. The reverent salute of his companion,
however, showed him that this must indeed be the king, so he bowed and
then drew himself erect with the simple dignity of a man who has been
trained in Nature's school.
"Good-evening, Captain de Catinat," said the king, with a pleasant
smile. "Your friend, as I understand, is a stranger to this country.
I trust, sir, that you have found something here to interest and to
"Yes, your Majesty. I have seen your great city, and it is a wonderful
one. And my friend has shown me this palace, with its woods and its
grounds. When I go back to my own country I will have much to say of
what I have seen in your beautiful land."
"You speak French, and yet you are not a Canadian."
"No, sire; I am from the English provinces."
The king looked with interest at the powerful figure, the bold features,
and the free bearing of the young foreigner, and his mind flashed back
to the dangers which the Comte de Frontenac had foretold from these same
colonies. If this were indeed a type of his race, they must in truth be
a people whom it would be better to have as friends than as enemies.
His mind, however, ran at present on other things than statecraft, and
he hastened to give De Catinat his orders for the night.
"You will ride into Paris on my service. Your friend can go with you.
Two are safer than one when they bear a message of state. I wish you,
however, to wait until nightfall before you start."
"Let none know your errand, and see that none follow you. You know the
house of Archbishop Harlay, prelate of Paris?"
"You will bid him drive out hither and be at the north-west side postern
by midnight. Let nothing hold him back. Storm or fine, he must he here
to-night. It is of the first importance."
"He shall have your order, sire."
"Very good. Adieu, captain. Adieu, monsieur. I trust that your stay
in France may be a pleasant one." He waved his hand, smiling with the
fascinating grace which had won so many hearts, and so dismissed the two
friends to their new mission.
THE LAST CARD.
Madame de Montespan still kept to her rooms, uneasy in mind at the
king's disappearance, but unwilling to show her anxiety to the court by
appearing among them or by making any inquiry as to what had occurred.
While she thus remained in ignorance of the sudden and complete collapse
of her fortunes, she had one active and energetic agent who had lost no
incident of what had occurred, and who watched her interests with as
much zeal as if they were his own. And indeed they were his own; for
her brother, Monsieur de Vivonne, had gained everything for which he
yearned, money, lands, and preferment, through his sister's notoriety,
and he well knew that the fall of her fortunes must be very rapidly
followed by that of his own. By nature bold, unscrupulous, and
resourceful, he was not a man to lose the game without playing it out to
the very end with all the energy and cunning of which he was capable.
Keenly alert to all that passed, he had, from the time that he first
heard the rumour of the king's intention, haunted the antechamber and
drawn his own conclusions from what he had seen. Nothing had escaped
him--the disconsolate faces of monsieur and of the dauphin, the visit of
Pere la Chaise and Bossuet to the lady's room, her return, the triumph
which shone in her eyes as she came away from the interview. He had
seen Bontems hurry off and summon the guardsman and his friend. He had
heard them order their horses to be brought out in a couple of hours'
time, and finally, from a spy whom he employed among the servants, he
learned that an unwonted bustle was going forward in Madame de
Maintenon's room, that Mademoiselle Nanon was half wild with excitement,
and that two court milliners had been hastily summoned to madame's
apartment. It was only, however, when he heard from the same servant
that a chamber was to be prepared for the reception that night of the
Archbishop of Paris that he understood how urgent was the danger.
Madame de Montespan had spent the evening stretched upon a sofa, in the
worst possible humour with everyone around her. She had read, but had
tossed aside the book. She had written, but had torn up the paper.
A thousand fears and suspicions chased each other through her head.
What had become of the king, then? He had seemed cold yesterday, and
his eyes had been for ever sliding round to the clock. And to-day he
had not come at all. Was it his gout, perhaps? Or was it possible that
she was again losing her hold upon him? Surely it could not be that!
She turned upon her couch and faced the mirror which flanked the door.
The candles had just been lit in her chamber, two score of them, each
with silver backs which reflected their light until the room was as
bright as day. There in the mirror was the brilliant chamber, the deep
red ottoman, and the single figure in its gauzy dress of white and
silver. She leaned upon her elbow, admiring the deep tint of her own
eyes with their long dark lashes, the white curve of her throat, and the
perfect oval of her face. She examined it all carefully, keenly, as
though it were her rival that lay before her, but nowhere could she see
a scratch of Time's malicious nails. She still had her beauty, then.
And if it had once won the king, why should it not suffice to hold him?
Of course it would do so. She reproached herself for her fears.
Doubtless he was indisposed, or perhaps he would come still. Ha! there
was the sound of an opening door and of a quick step in her ante-room.
Was it he, or at least his messenger with a note from him?
But no, it was her brother, with the haggard eyes and drawn face of a
man who is weighed down with his own evil tidings. He turned as he
entered, fastened the door, and then striding across the room, locked
the other one which led to her boudoir.
"We are safe from interruption," he panted. "I have hastened here, for
every second may be invaluable. Have you heard anything from the king?"
"Nothing." She had sprung to her feet, and was gazing at him with a
face which was as pale as his own.
"The hour has come for action, Francoise. It is the hour at which the
Mortemarts have always shown at their best. Do not yield to the blow,
then, but gather yourself to meet it."
"What is it?" She tried to speak in her natural tone, but only a
whisper came to her dry lips.
"The king is about to marry Madame de Maintenon."
"The _gouvernante_! The widow Scarron! It is impossible!"
"It is certain."
"To marry? Did you say to marry?"
"Yes, he will marry her."
The woman flung out her hands in a gesture of contempt, and laughed loud
"You are easily frightened, brother," said she. "Ah, you do not know
your little sister. Perchance if you were not my brother you might rate
my powers more highly. Give me a day, only one little day, and you will
see Louis, the proud Louis, down at the hem of my dress to ask my pardon
for this slight. I tell you that he cannot break the bonds that hold
him. One day is all I ask to bring him back."
"But you cannot have it."
"The marriage is to-night."
"You are mad, Charles."
"I am certain of it." In a few broken sentences he shot out all that he
had seen and heard. She listened with a grim face, and hands which
closed ever tighter and tighter as he proceeded. But he had said the
truth about the Mortemarts. They came of a contentious blood, and were
ever at their best at a moment of action. Hate rather than dismay
filled her heart as she listened, and the whole energy of her nature
gathered and quickened to meet the crisis.
"I shall go and see him," she cried, sweeping towards the door.
"No, no, Francoise. Believe me, you will ruin everything if you do.
Strict orders have been given to the guard to admit no one to the king."
"But I shall insist upon passing them."
"Believe me, sister, it is worse than useless. I have spoken with the
officer of the guard, and the command is a stringent one."
"Ah, I shall manage."
"No, you shall not." He put his back against the door. "I know that it
is useless, and I will not have my sister make herself the
laughing-stock of the court, trying to force her way into the room of a
man who repulses her."
His sister's cheeks flushed at the words, and she paused irresolute.
"Had I only a day, Charles, I am sure that I could bring him back to me.
There has been some other influence here, that meddlesome Jesuit or the
pompous Bossuet, perhaps. Only one day to counteract their wiles!
Can I not see them waving hell-fire before his foolish eyes, as one
swings a torch before a bull to turn it? Oh, if I could but baulk them
to-night! That woman! that cursed woman! The foul viper which I nursed
in my bosom! Oh, I had rather see Louis in his grave than married to
her! Charles, Charles, it must be stopped; I say it must be stopped!
I will give anything, everything, to prevent it!"
"What will you give, my sister?"
She looked at him aghast. "What! you do not wish me to buy you?" she
"No; but I wish to buy others."
"Ha! You see a chance, then?"
"One, and one only. But time presses. I want money."
"I cannot have too much. All that you can spare."
With hands which trembled with eagerness she unlocked a secret cupboard
in the wall in which she concealed her valuables. A blaze of jewellery
met her brother's eyes as he peered over her shoulder. Great rubies,
costly emeralds, deep ruddy beryls, glimmering diamonds, were scattered
there in one brilliant shimmering many-coloured heap, the harvest which
she had reaped from the king's generosity during more than fifteen
years. At one side were three drawers, the one over the other.
She drew out the lowest one. It was full to the brim of glittering
"Take what you will!" she said. "And now your plan! Quick!"
He stuffed the money in handfuls into the side pockets of his coat.
Coins slipped between his fingers and tinkled and wheeled over the
floor, but neither cast a glance at them.
"Your plan?" she repeated.
"We must prevent the Archbishop from arriving here. Then the marriage
would be postponed until to-morrow night, and you would have time to
"But how prevent it?"
"There are a dozen good rapiers about the court which are to be bought
for less than I carry in one pocket. There is De la Touche, young
Turberville, old Major Despard, Raymond de Carnac, and the four Latours.
I will gather them together, and wait on the road."
"And waylay the archbishop?"
"No; the messengers."
"Oh, excellent! You are a prince of brothers! If no message reaches
Paris, we are saved. Go; go; do not lose a moment, my dear Charles."
"It is very well, Francoise; but what are we to do with them when we get
them? We may lose our heads over the matter, it seems to me. After
all, they are the king's messengers, and we can scarce pass our swords
"There would be no forgiveness for that."
"But consider that before the matter is looked into I shall have
regained my influence with the king."
"All very fine, my little sister, but how long is your influence to
last? A pleasant life for us if at every change of favour we have to
fly the country! No, no, Francoise; the most that we can do is to
detain the messengers."
"Where can you detain them?"
"I have an idea. There is the castle of the Marquis de Montespan at
"Of my husband!"
"Of my most bitter enemy! Oh, Charles, you are not serious."
"On the contrary, I was never more so. The marquis was away in Paris
yesterday, and has not yet returned. Where is the ring with his arms?"
She hunted among her jewels and picked out a gold ring with a broad
"This will be our key. When good Marceau, the steward, sees it, every
dungeon in the castle will be at our disposal. It is that or nothing.
There is no other place where we can hold them safe."
"But when my husband returns?"
"Ah, he may be a little puzzled as to his captives. And the complaisant
Marceau may have an evil quarter of an hour. But that may not be for a
week, and by that time, my little sister, I have confidence enough in
you to think that you really may have finished the campaign. Not
another word, for every moment is of value. Adieu, Francoise! We shall
not be conquered without a struggle. I will send a message to you
to-night to let you know how fortune uses us." He took her fondly in
his arms, kissed her, and then hurried from the room.
For hours after his departure she paced up and down with noiseless steps
upon the deep soft carpet, her hand still clenched, her eyes flaming,
her whole soul wrapped and consumed with jealousy and hatred of her
rival. Ten struck, and eleven, and midnight, but still she waited,
fierce and eager, straining her ears for every foot-fall which might be
the herald of news. At last it came. She heard the quick step in the
passage, the tap at the ante-room door, and the whispering of her black
page. Quivering with impatience, she rushed in and took the note
herself from the dusty cavalier who had brought it. It was but six
words scrawled roughly upon a wisp of dirty paper, but it brought the
colour back to her cheeks and the smile to her lips. It was her
brother's writing, and it ran: "The archbishop will not come to-night."
THE MIDNIGHT MISSION.
De Catinat in the meanwhile was perfectly aware of the importance of the
mission which had been assigned to him. The secrecy which had been
enjoined by the king, his evident excitement, and the nature of his
orders, all confirmed the rumours which were already beginning to buzz
round the court. He knew enough of the intrigues and antagonisms with
which the court was full to understand that every precaution was
necessary in carrying out his instructions. He waited, therefore, until
night had fallen before ordering his soldier-servant to bring round the
two horses to one of the less public gates of the grounds. As he and
his friend walked together to the spot, he gave the young American a
rapid sketch of the situation at the court, and of the chance that this
nocturnal ride might be an event which would affect the future history
"I like your king," said Amos Green, "and I am glad to ride in his
service. He is a slip of a man to be the head of a great nation, but he
has the eye of a chief. If one met him alone in a Maine forest, one
would know him as a man who was different to his fellows. Well, I am
glad that he is going to marry again, though it's a great house for any
woman to have to look after."
De Catinat smiled at his comrade's idea of a queen's duties.
"Are you armed?" he asked. "You have no sword or pistols?"
"No; if I may not carry my gun, I had rather not be troubled by tools
that I have never learned to use. I have my knife. But why do you
"Because there may be danger."
"Many have an interest in stopping this marriage. All the first men of
the kingdom are bitterly against it. If they could stop _us_, they
would stop _it_, for to-night at least."
"But I thought it was a secret?"
"There is no such thing at a court. There is the dauphin, or the king's
brother, either of them, or any of their friends, would be right glad
that we should be in the Seine before we reach the archbishop's house
this night. But who is this?"
A burly figure had loomed up through the gloom on the path upon which
they were going. As it approached, a coloured lamp dangling from one of
the trees shone upon the blue and silver of an officer of the guards.
It was Major de Brissac, of De Catinat's own regiment.
"Hullo! Whither away?" he asked.
"To Paris, major."
"I go there myself within an hour. Will you not wait, that we may go
"I am sorry, but I ride on a matter of urgency. I must not lose a
"Very good. Good-night, and a pleasant ride."
"Is he a trusty man, our friend the major?" asked Amos Green, glancing
"True as steel."
"Then I would have a word with him." The American hurried back along
the way they had come, while De Catinat stood chafing at this
unnecessary delay. It was a full five minutes before his companion
joined him, and the fiery blood of the French soldier was hot with
impatience and anger.
"I think that perhaps you had best ride into Paris at your leisure, my
friend," said he. "If I go upon the king's service I cannot be delayed
whenever the whim takes you."
"I am sorry," answered the other quietly. "I had something to say to
your major, and I thought that maybe I might not see him again."
"Well, here are the horses," said the guardsman as he pushed open the
postern-gate. "Have you fed an watered them, Jacques?"
"Yes, my captain," answered the man who stood at their head.
"Boot and saddle, then, friend Green, and we shall not draw rein again
until we see the lights of Paris in front of us."
The soldier-groom peered through the darkness after them with a sardonic
smile upon his face. "You won't draw rein, won't you?" he muttered as
he turned away. "Well, we shall see about that, my captain; we shall
see about that."
For a mile or more the comrades galloped along, neck to neck and knee to
knee. A wind had sprung up from the westward, and the heavens were
covered with heavy gray clouds, which drifted swiftly across, a crescent
moon peeping fitfully from time to time between the rifts. Even during
these moments of brightness the road, shadowed as it was by heavy trees,
was very dark, but when the light was shut off it was hard, but for the
loom upon either side, to tell where it lay. De Catinat at least found
it so, and he peered anxiously over his horse's ears, and stooped his
face to the mane in his efforts to see his way.
"What do you make of the road?" he asked at last.
"It looks as if a good many carriage wheels had passed over it to-day."
"What! _Mon Dieu!_ Do you mean to say that you can see carriage wheels
"Certainly. Why not?"
"Why, man, I cannot see the road at all."
Amos Green laughed heartily. "When you have travelled in the woods by
night as often as I have," said he, "when to show a light may mean to
lose your hair, one comes to learn to use one's eyes."
"Then you had best ride on, and I shall keep just behind you.
So! _Hola!_ What is the matter now?"
There had been the sudden sharp snap of something breaking, and the
American had reeled for an instant in the saddle.
"It's one of my stirrup leathers. It has fallen."
"Can you find it?"
"Yes; but I can ride as well without it. Let us push on."
"Very good. I can just see you now."
They had galloped for about five minutes in this fashion, De Catinat's
horse's head within a few feet of the other's tail, when there was a
second snap, and the guardsman rolled out of the saddle on to the
ground. He kept his grip of the reins, however, and was up in an
instant at his horse's head, sputtering out oaths as only an angry
"A thousand thunders of heaven!" he cried. "What was it that happened
"Your leather has gone too."
"Two stirrup leathers in five minutes? It is not possible."
"It is not possible that it should be chance," said the American
gravely, swinging himself off his horse. "Why, what is this? My other
leather is cut, and hangs only by a thread."
"And so does mine. I can feel it when I pass my hand along. Have you a
tinder-box? Let us strike a light."
"No, no; the man who is in the dark is in safety. I let the other folk
strike lights. We can see all that is needful to us."
"My rein is cut also."
"And so is mine."
"And the girth of my saddle."
"It is a wonder that we came so far with whole bones. Now, who has
played us this little trick?"
"Who could it be but that rogue Jacques! He has had the horses in his
charge. By my faith, he shall know what the strappado means when I see
"But why should he do it?"
"Ah, he has been set on to it. He has been a tool in the hands of those
who wished to hinder our journey."
"Very like. But they must have had some reason behind. They knew well
that to cut our straps would not prevent us from reaching Paris, since
we could ride bareback, or, for that matter, could run it if need be."
"They hoped to break our necks."
"One neck they might break, but scarce those of two, since the fate of
the one would warn the other."
"Well, then, what do you think that they meant?" cried De Catinat
impatiently. "For heaven's sake, let us come to some conclusion, for
every minute is of importance."
But the other was not to be hurried out of his cool, methodical fashion
of speech and of thought.
"They could not have thought to stop us," said he.
"What did they mean, then? They could only have meant to delay us.
And why should they wish to delay us? What could it matter to them if
we gave our message an hour or two sooner or an hour or two later?
It could not matter."
"For heaven's sake--" broke in De Catinat impetuously.
But Amos Green went on hammering the matter slowly out.
"Why should they wish to delay us, then? There's only one reason that I
can see. In order to give other folk time to get in front of us and
stop us. That is it, captain. I'd lay you a beaver-skin to a
rabbit-pelt that I'm on the track. There's been a party of a dozen
horsemen along this ground since the dew began to fall. If they were
delayed, they would have time to form their plans before we came."
"By my faith, you may be right," said De Catinat thoughtfully. "What
would you propose?"
"That we ride back, and go by some less direct way."
"It is impossible. We should have to ride back to Meudon cross-roads,
and then it would add ten miles to our journey."
"It is better to get there an hour later than not to get there at all."
"Pshaw! we are surely not to be turned from our path by a mere guess.
There is the St. Germain cross-road about a mile below. When we reach
it we can strike to the right along the south side of the river, and so
change our course."
"But we may not reach it."
"If anyone bars our way we shall know how to treat with them."
"You would fight, then?"
"What! with a dozen of them?"
"A hundred, if we are on the king's errand."
Amos Green shrugged his shoulders.
"You are surely not afraid?"
"Yes, I am, mighty afraid. Fighting's good enough when there's no help
for it. But I call it a fool's plan to ride straight into a trap when
you might go round it."
"You may do what you like," said De Catinat angrily.
"My father was a gentleman, the owner of a thousand arpents of land, and
his son is not going to flinch in the king's service."
"My father," answered Amos Green, "was a merchant, the owner of a
thousand skunk-skins, and his son knows a fool when he sees one."
"You are insolent, sir," cried the guardsman. "We can settle this
matter at some more fitting opportunity. At present I continue my
mission, and you are very welcome to turn back to Versailles if you are
so inclined." He raised his hat with punctilious politeness, sprang on
to his horse, and rode on down the road.
Amos Green hesitated a little, and then mounting, he soon overtook his
companion. The latter, however, was still in no very sweet temper, and
rode with a rigid neck, without a glance or a word for his comrade.
Suddenly his eyes caught something in the gloom which brought a smile
back to his face. Away in front of them, between two dark tree clumps,
lay a vast number of shimmering, glittering yellow points, as thick as
flowers in a garden. They were the lights of Paris.
"See!" he cried, pointing. "There is the city, and close here must be
the St. Germain road. We shall take it, so as to avoid any danger."
"Very good! But you should not ride too fast, when your girth may break
at any moment."
"Nay, come on; we are close to our journey's end. The St. Germain road
opens just round this corner, and then we shall see our way, for the
lights will guide us."
He cut his horse with his whip, and they galloped together round the
curve. Next instant they were both down in one wild heap of tossing
heads and struggling hoofs, De Catinat partly covered by his horse, and
his comrade hurled twenty paces, where he lay silent and motionless in
the centre of the road.
"WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES."
Monsieur de Vivonne had laid his ambuscade with discretion. With a
closed carriage and a band of chosen ruffians he had left the palace a
good half-hour before the king's messengers, and by the aid of his
sister's gold he had managed that their journey should not be a very
rapid one. On reaching the branch road he had ordered the coachman to
drive some little distance along it, and had tethered all the horses to
a fence under his charge. He had then stationed one of the band as a
sentinel some distance up the main highway to flash a light when the two
courtiers were approaching. A stout cord had been fastened eighteen
inches from the ground to the trunk of a wayside sapling, and on
receiving the signal the other end was tied to a gate-post upon the
further side. The two cavaliers could not possibly see it, coming as it
did at the very curve of the road, and as a consequence their horses
fell heavily to the ground, and brought them down with them. In an
instant the dozen ruffians who had lurked in the shadow of the trees
sprang out upon them, sword in hand; but there was no movement from
either of their victims. De Catinat lay breathing heavily, one leg
under his horse's neck, and the blood trickling in a thin stream down
his pale face, and falling, drop by drop, on to his silver
shoulder-straps. Amos Green was unwounded, but his injured girth had
given way in the fall, and he had been hurled from his horse on to the
hard road with a violence which had driven every particle of breath from
Monsieur de Vivonne lit a lantern, and flashed it upon the faces of the
two unconscious men. "This is a bad business, Major Despard," said he
to the man next him. "I believe that they are both gone."
"Tut! tut! By my soul, men did not die like that when I was young!"
answered the other, leaning forward his fierce grizzled face into the
light of the lantern. "I've been cast from my horse as often as there
are tags to my doublet, but, save for the snap of a bone or two, I never
had any harm from it. Pass your rapier under the third rib of the
horses, De la Touche; they will never be fit to set hoof to ground
again." Two sobbing gasps and the thud of their straining necks falling
back to earth told that the two steeds had come to the end of their
"Where is Latour?" asked Monsieur de Vivonne. "Achille Latour has
studied medicine at Montpellier. Where is he?"
"Here I am, your excellency. It is not for me to boast, but I am as
handy a man with a lancet as with a rapier, and it was an evil day for
some sick folk when I first took to buff and bandolier. Which would you
have me look to?"
"This one in the road."
The trooper bent over Amos Green. "He is not long for this world," said
he. "I can tell it by the catch of his breath."
"And what is his injury?"
"A subluxation of the epigastrium. Ah, the words of learning will still
come to my tongue, but it is hard to put into common terms. Methinks
that it were well for me to pass my dagger through his throat, for his
end is very near."
"Not for your life!" cried the leader. "If he die without wound, they
cannot lay it to our charge. Turn now to the other."
The man bent over De Catinat, and placed his hand upon his heart. As he
did so the soldier heaved a long sigh, opened his eyes, and gazed about
him with the face of one who knows neither where he is nor how he came
there. De Vivonne, who had drawn his hat down over his eyes, and
muffled the lower part of his face in his mantle, took out his flask,
and poured a little of the contents down the injured man's throat.
In an instant a dash of colour had come back into the guardsman's
bloodless cheeks, and the light of memory into his eyes. He struggled
up on to his feet, and strove furiously to push away those who held him.
But his head still swam, and he could scarce hold himself erect.
"I must to Paris!" he gasped; "I must to Paris! It is the king's
mission. You stop me at your peril!"
"He has no hurt save a scratch," said the ex-doctor.
"Then hold him fast. And first carry the dying man to the carriage."
The lantern threw but a small ring of yellow light, so that when it had
been carried over to De Catinat, Amos Green was left lying in the
shadow. Now they brought the light back to where the young man lay.
But there was no sign of him. He was gone.
For a moment the little group of ruffians stood staring, the light of
their lantern streaming up upon their plumed hats, their fierce eyes,
and savage faces. Then a burst of oaths broke from them, and De Vivonne
caught the false doctor by the throat, and hurling him down, would have
choked him upon the spot, had the others not dragged them apart.
"You lying dog!" he cried. "Is this your skill? The man has fled, and
we are ruined!"
"He has done it in his death-struggle," gasped the other hoarsely,
sitting up and rubbing his throat. "I tell you that he was
_in extremis_. He cannot be far off."
"That is true. He cannot be far off," cried De Vivonne. "He has
neither horse nor arms. You, Despard and Raymond de Carnac, guard the
other, that he play us no trick. Do you, Latour, and you, Turberville,
ride down the road, and wait by the south gate. If he enter Paris at
all, he must come in that way. If you get him, tie him before you on
your horse, and bring him to the rendezvous. In any case, it matters
little, for he is a stranger, this fellow, and only here by chance. Now
lead the other to the carriage, and we shall get away before an alarm is
The two horsemen rode off in pursuit of the fugitive, and De Catinat,
still struggling desperately to escape, was dragged down the St. Germain
road and thrust into the carriage, which had waited at some distance
while these incidents were being enacted. Three of the horsemen rode
ahead, the coachman was curtly ordered to follow them, and De Vivonne,
having despatched one of the band with a note to his sister, followed
after the coach with the remainder of his desperadoes.
The unfortunate guardsman had now entirely recovered his senses, and
found himself with a strap round his ankles, and another round his
wrists, a captive inside a moving prison which lumbered heavily along
the country road. He had been stunned by the shock of his fall, and his
leg was badly bruised by the weight of his horse; but the cut on his
forehead was a mere trifle, and the bleeding had already ceased.
His mind, however, pained him more than his body. He sank his head into
his pinioned hands, and stamped madly with his feet, rocking himself to
and fro in his despair. What a fool, a treble fool, he had been!
He, an old soldier, who had seen something of war, to walk with open
eyes into such a trap! The king had chosen him of all men, as a trusty
messenger, and yet he had failed him--and failed him so ignominiously,
without shot fired or sword drawn. He was warned, too, warned by a
young man who knew nothing of court intrigue, and who was guided only by
the wits which Nature had given him. De Catinat dashed himself down
upon the leather cushion in the agony of his thoughts.
But then came a return of that common-sense which lies so very closely
beneath the impetuosity of the Celt. The matter was done now, and he
must see if it could not be mended. Amos Green had escaped. That was
one grand point in his favour. And Amos Green had heard the king's
message, and realised its importance. It was true that he knew nothing
of Paris, but surely a man who could pick his way at night through the
forests of Maine would not be baulked in finding so well-known a house
as that of the Archbishop of Paris. But then there came a sudden
thought which turned De Catinat's heart to lead. The city gates were
locked at eight o'clock in the evening. It was now nearly nine. It
would have been easy for him, whose uniform was a voucher for his
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