But the guardsman’s quick ear had caught the sound of moving feet from within, and he knew that he was master of the situation.
“I will take Madame’s message,” said he.
“Ah, you have recovered your senses! Go, tell the king that I wish to speak with him.”
He must gain a little time yet. “Shall I say it through the lord in waiting?”
“No, no; for his private ear.”
“Shall I give a reason for your request?”
“Oh, you madden me! Say what I have told you, and at once.”
But the young officer’s dilemma was happily over.
At that instant the double doors were swung open, and Louis appeared in the opening, strutting forwards on his high-heeled shoes, his stick tapping, his broad skirts flapping, and his courtiers spreading out behind him. He stopped as he came out, and turned to the captain of the guard.
“You have a note for me?”
The monarch slipped it into the pocket of his scarlet undervest, and was advancing once more when his eyes fell upon Madame de Montespan standing very stiff and erect in the middle of the passage. A dark flush of anger shot to his brow, and he walked swiftly past her without a word; but she turned and kept pace with him down the corridor.
“I had not expected this honour, madame,” said he.
“Nor had I expected this insult, sire.”
“An insult, madame? You forget yourself.”
“No; it is you who have forgotten me, sire.”
“You intrude upon me.”
“I wished to hear my fate from your own lips,” she whispered. “I can bear to be struck myself, sire, even by him who has my heart. But it is hard to hear that one’s brother has been wounded through the mouths of valets and Huguenot soldiers for no fault of his, save that his sister has loved too fondly.”
“It is no time to speak of such things.”
“When can I see you, then, sire?”
“In your chamber.”
“At what hour?”
“Then I shall trouble your Majesty no further.” She swept him one of the graceful courtesies for which she was famous, and turned away down a side passage with triumph shining in her eyes. Her beauty and her spirit had never failed her yet, and now that she had the monarch’s promise of an interview she never doubted that she could do as she had done before, and win back the heart of the man, however much against the conscience of the king.
THE FATHER OF HIS PEOPLE.