THE MIDNIGHT MISSION.
De Catinat in the meanwhile was perfectly aware of the importance of the mission which had been assigned to him. The secrecy which had been enjoined by the king, his evident excitement, and the nature of his orders, all confirmed the rumours which were already beginning to buzz round the court. He knew enough of the intrigues and antagonisms with which the court was full to understand that every precaution was necessary in carrying out his instructions. He waited, therefore, until night had fallen before ordering his soldier-servant to bring round the two horses to one of the less public gates of the grounds. As he and his friend walked together to the spot, he gave the young American a rapid sketch of the situation at the court, and of the chance that this nocturnal ride might be an event which would affect the future history of France.
“I like your king,” said Amos Green, “and I am glad to ride in his service. He is a slip of a man to be the head of a great nation, but he has the eye of a chief. If one met him alone in a Maine forest, one would know him as a man who was different to his fellows. Well, I am glad that he is going to marry again, though it’s a great house for any woman to have to look after.”
De Catinat smiled at his comrade’s idea of a queen’s duties.
“Are you armed?” he asked. “You have no sword or pistols?”
“No; if I may not carry my gun, I had rather not be troubled by tools that I have never learned to use. I have my knife. But why do you ask?”
“Because there may be danger.”
“Many have an interest in stopping this marriage. All the first men of the kingdom are bitterly against it. If they could stop us, they would stop it, for to-night at least.”
“But I thought it was a secret?”
“There is no such thing at a court. There is the dauphin, or the king’s brother, either of them, or any of their friends, would be right glad that we should be in the Seine before we reach the archbishop’s house this night. But who is this?”
A burly figure had loomed up through the gloom on the path upon which they were going. As it approached, a coloured lamp dangling from one of the trees shone upon the blue and silver of an officer of the guards. It was Major de Brissac, of De Catinat’s own regiment.
“Hullo! Whither away?” he asked.
“To Paris, major.”
“I go there myself within an hour. Will you not wait, that we may go together?”
“I am sorry, but I ride on a matter of urgency. I must not lose a minute.”
“Very good. Good-night, and a pleasant ride.”
“Is he a trusty man, our friend the major?” asked Amos Green, glancing back.
“True as steel.”
“Then I would have a word with him.” The American hurried back along the way they had come, while De Catinat stood chafing at this unnecessary delay. It was a full five minutes before his companion joined him, and the fiery blood of the French soldier was hot with impatience and anger.