“I have loved you for years, sire.” Her voice was low but clear—the voice of a woman to whom coquetry was abhorrent.
“I had hoped it, Francoise, and yet it thrills me to hear you say it. I know that wealth and title have no attraction for you, and that your heart turns rather towards the convent than the palace. Yet I ask you to remain in the palace, and to reign there. Will you be my wife, Francoise?”
And so the moment had in very truth come. She paused for an instant, only an instant, before taking this last great step; but even that was too long for the patience of the king.
“Will you not, Francoise?” he cried, with a ring of fear in his voice.
“May God make me worthy of such an honour, sire!” said she. “And here I swear that if heaven double my life, every hour shall be spent in the one endeavour to make you a happier man!”
She had knelt down, and the king, still holding her hand, knelt down beside her.
“And I swear too,” he cried, “that if my days also are doubled, you will now and forever be the one and only woman for me.”
And so their double oath was taken, an oath which was to be tested in the future, for each did live almost double their years, and yet neither broke the promise made hand in hand on that evening in the shadow-girt chamber.
THE KING RECEIVES.
It may have been that Mademoiselle Nanon, the faithful confidante of Madame de Maintenon, had learned something of this interview, or it may be that Pere la Chaise, with the shrewdness for which his Order is famous, had come to the conclusion that publicity was the best means of holding the king to his present intention; but whatever the source, it was known all over the court next day that the old favourite was again in disgrace, and that there was talk of a marriage between the king and the governess of his children. It was whispered at the petit lever, confirmed at the grand entree, and was common gossip by the time that the king had returned from chapel. Back into wardrobe and drawer went the flaring silks and the feathered hats, and out once more came the sombre coat and the matronly dress. Scudery and Calpernedi gave place to the missal and St. Thomas a Kempis, while Bourdaloue, after preaching for a week to empty benches, found his chapel packed to the last seat with weary gentlemen and taper-bearing ladies. By midday there was none in the court who had not heard the tidings, save only Madame de Montespan, who, alarmed by her lover’s absence, had remained in haughty seclusion in her room, and knew nothing of what had passed. Many there were who would have loved to carry her the tidings; but the king’s changes had been frequent of late, and who would dare to make a mortal enemy of one who might, ere many weeks were past, have the lives and fortunes of the whole court in the hollow of her hand?