And the blood mounted to the pale face of Charles II., who remained for an instant with his head between his hands, and as if blinded by that blood which appeared to revolt against the filial blasphemy.
The young king was not less affected than his elder brother; he threw himself about in his fauteuil, and could not find a single word of reply.
Charles II., to whom ten years in age gave a superior strength to master his emotions, recovered his speech the first.
“Sire,” said he, “your reply? I wait for it as a criminal waits for his sentence. Must I die?”
“My brother,” replied the French prince, “you ask of me for a million — me, who was never possessed of a quarter of that sum! I possess nothing. I am no more king of France than you are king of England. I am a name, a cipher dressed in fleur-de-lised velvet, — that is all. I am upon a visible throne; that is my only advantage over your majesty. I have nothing — I can do nothing.”
“Can it be so?” exclaimed Charles II.
“My brother,” said Louis, sinking his voice, “I have undergone miseries with which my poorest gentlemen are unacquainted. If my poor Laporte were here, he would tell you that I have slept in ragged sheets, through the holes of which my legs have passed; he would tell you that afterwards, when I asked for carriages, they brought me conveyances half-destroyed by the rats of the coach-houses; he would tell you that when I asked for my dinner, the servants went to the cardinal’s kitchen to inquire if there were any dinner for the king. And look! to-day, this very day even, when I am twenty-two years of age, — to-day, when I have attained the grade of the majority of kings, — to-day, when I ought to have the key of the treasury, the direction of the policy, the supremacy in peace and war, — cast your eyes around me, see how I am left! Look at this abandonment — this disdain — this silence! — Whilst yonder — look yonder! View the bustle, the lights, the homage! There! — there you see the real king of France, my brother!”
“In the cardinal’s apartments?”
“Yes, in the cardinal’s apartments.”
“Then I am condemned, sire?”
Louis XIV. made no reply.
“Condemned is the word; for I will never solicit him who left my mother and sister to die with cold and hunger — the daughter and grand-daughter of Henry IV. — as surely they would have if M. de Retz and the parliament had not sent them wood and bread.”
“To die?” murmured Louis XIV.
“Well!” continued the king of England, “poor Charles II., grandson of Henry IV., as you are, sire having neither parliament nor Cardinal de Retz to apply to, will die of hunger, as his mother and sister had nearly done.”
Louis knitted his brow, and twisted violently the lace of his ruffles.
This prostration, this immobility, serving as a mark to an emotion so visible, struck Charles II., and he took the young man’s hand.