Chapter XIII: The King Has IdeasEdit
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 ministers."
"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 the utmost.
"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 discomfort?"
"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 Paris to-night."
"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 me."
"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 amuse you?"
"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.