The little party assembled in the king’s ante-room, and started from there to the private chapel. In front walked the portly bishop, clad in a green vestment, puffed out with the importance of the function, his missal in his hand, and his fingers between the pages at the service de matrimoniis. Beside him strode his almoner, and two little servitors of the court in crimson cassocks bearing lighted torches. The king and Madame de Maintenon walked side by side, she quiet and composed, with gentle bearing and downcast eyes, he with a flush on his dark cheeks, and a nervous, furtive look in his eyes, like a man who knows that he is in the midst of one of the great crises of his life. Behind them, in solemn silence, followed a little group of chosen witnesses, the lean, silent Pere la Chaise, Louvois, scowling heavily at the bride, the Marquis de Charmarante, Bontems, and Mademoiselle Nanon.
The torches shed a strong yellow light upon this small band as they advanced slowly through the corridors and salons which led to the chapel, and they threw a garish glare upon the painted walls and ceilings, flashing back from gold-work and from mirror, but leaving long trailing shadows in the corners. The king glanced nervously at these black recesses, and at the portraits of his ancestors and relations which lined the walls. As he passed that of his late queen, Maria Theresa, he started and gasped with horror.
“My God!” he whispered; “she frowned and spat at me!”
Madame laid her cool hand upon his wrist. “It is nothing, sire,” she murmured, in her soothing voice. “It was but the light flickering over the picture.”
Her words had their usual effect upon him. The startled look died away from his eyes, and taking her hand in his he walked resolutely forwards. A minute later they were before the altar, and the words were being read which should bind them forever together. As they turned away again, her new ring blazing upon her finger, there was a buzz of congratulation around her. The king only said nothing, but he looked at her, and she had no wish that he should say more. She was still calm and pale, but the blood throbbed in her temples. “You are Queen of France now,” it seemed to be humming—“queen, queen, queen!”
But a sudden shadow had fallen across her, and a low voice was in her ear. “Remember your promise to the Church,” it whispered. She started, and turned to see the pale, eager face of the Jesuit beside her.
“Your hand has turned cold, Francoise,” said Louis. “Let us go, dearest. We have been too long in this dismal church.”
THE TWO FRANCOISES.
Madame de Montespan had retired to rest, easy in her mind, after receiving the message from her brother. She knew Louis as few others knew him, and she was well aware of that obstinacy in trifles which was one of his characteristics. If he had said that he would be married by the archbishop, then the archbishop it must be; to-night, at least, there should be no marriage. To-morrow was a new day, and if it did not shake the king’s plans, then indeed she must have lost her wit as well as her beauty.