“I have promised, father.”
“Then it is for us to perform. You will remain in your room all evening.”
“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 king.
“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?”