“You have had a long journey,” he said.
“Yes; from Rouen.”
“Are you tired?”
“No; I am seldom tired.”
“Remain with the lady, then, until her father comes back.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I have to go, and she might need a protector.”
The stranger said nothing, but he nodded, and throwing off his black coat, set to work vigorously rubbing down his travel-stained horse.
A MONARCH IN DESHABILLE.
It was the morning after the guardsman had returned to his duties. Eight o’clock had struck on the great clock of Versailles, and it was almost time for the monarch to rise. Through all the long corridors and frescoed passages of the monster palace there was a subdued hum and rustle, with a low muffled stir of preparation, for the rising of the king was a great state function in which many had a part to play. A servant with a steaming silver saucer hurried past, bearing it to Monsieur de St. Quentin, the state barber. Others, with clothes thrown over their arms, bustled down the passage which led to the ante-chamber. The knot of guardsmen in their gorgeous blue and silver coats straightened themselves up and brought their halberds to attention, while the young officer, who had been looking wistfully out of the window at some courtiers who were laughing and chatting on the terraces, turned sharply upon his heel, and strode over to the white and gold door of the royal bedroom.
He had hardly taken his stand there before the handle was very gently turned from within, the door revolved noiselessly upon its hinges, and a man slid silently through the aperture, closing it again behind him.
“Hush!” said he, with his finger to his thin, precise lips, while his whole clean-shaven face and high-arched brows were an entreaty and a warning. “The king still sleeps.”
The words were whispered from one to another among the group who had assembled outside the door. The speaker, who was Monsieur Bontems, head valet de Chambre, gave a sign to the officer of the guard, and led him into the window alcove from which he had lately come.
“Good-morning, Captain de Catinat,” said he, with a mixture of familiarity and respect in his manner.
“Good-morning, Bontems. How has the king slept?”
“But it is his time.”
“You will not rouse him yet?”
“In seven and a half minutes.” The valet pulled out the little round watch which gave the law to the man who was the law to twenty millions of people.
“Who commands at the main guard?”
“Major de Brissac.”
“And you will be here?”
“For four hours I attend the king.”
“Very good. He gave me some instructions for the officer of the guard, when he was alone last night after the petit coucher. He bade me to say that Monsieur de Vivonne was not to be admitted to the grand lever. You are to tell him so.”