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saddle.

"Why, man, these woods are the king's preserves and you speak as coolly
of slaying his deer as though you were on the shores of Michigan!"

"Preserves! They are tame deer!" An expression of deep disgust passed
over his face, and spurring his horse, he galloped onwards at such a
pace that De Catinat, after vainly endeavouring to keep up, had to
shriek to him to stop.

"It is not usual in this country to ride so madly along the roads," he
panted.

"It is a very strange country," cried the stranger, in perplexity.
"Maybe it would be easier for me to remember what _is_ allowed. It was
but this morning that I took my gun to shoot a pigeon that was flying
over the roofs in yonder street, and old Pierre caught my arm with a
face as though it were the minister that I was aiming at. And then
there is that old man - why, they will not even let him say his prayers."

De Catinat laughed. "You will come to know our ways soon," said he.
"This is a crowded land, and if all men rode and shot as they listed,
much harm would come from it. But let us talk rather of your own
country. You have lived much in the woods from what you tell me."

"I was but ten when first I journeyed with my uncle to Sault la Marie,
where the three great lakes meet, to trade with the Chippewas and the
tribes of the west."

"I know not what La Salle or De Frontenac would have said to that. The
trade in those parts belongs to France."

"We were taken prisoners, and so it was that I came to see Montreal and
afterwards Quebec. In the end we were sent back because they did not
know what they could do with us."

"It was a good journey for a first."

"And ever since I have been trading - first, on the Kennebec with the
Abenaquis, in the great forests of Maine, and with the Micmac
fish-eaters over the Penobscot. Then later with the Iroquois, as far
west as the country of the Senecas. At Albany and Schenectady we stored
our pelts, and so on to New York, where my father shipped them over the
sea."

"But he could ill spare you surely?"

"Very ill. But as he was rich, he thought it best that I should learn
some things that are not to be found in the woods. And so he sent me in
the _Golden Rod_, under the care of Ephraim Savage."

"Who is also of New York?"

"Nay; he is the first man that ever was born at Boston."

"I cannot remember the names of all these villages."

"And yet there may come a day when their names shall be as well known
as that of Paris."

De Catinat laughed heartily. "The woods may have given you much, but
not the gift of prophecy, my friend. Well, my heart is often over the
water even as yours is, and I would ask nothing better than to see the
palisades of Point Levi again, even if all the Five Nations were raving
upon the other side of them. But now, if you will look there in the gap
of the trees, you will see the king's new palace."

The two young men pulled up their horses, and looked down at the
wide-spreading building in all the beauty of its dazzling whiteness,
and at the lovely grounds, dotted with fountain and with statue, and
barred with hedge and with walk, stretching away to the dense woods
which clustered round them. It amused De Catinat to watch the swift
play of wonder and admiration which flashed over his companion's
features.

"Well, what do you think of it?" he asked at last.

"I think that God's best work is in America, and man's in Europe."

"Ay, and in all Europe there is no such palace as that, even as there is
no such king as he who dwells within it."

"Can I see him, think you?"

"Who, the king? No, no; I fear that you are scarce made for a court."

"Nay, I should show him all honour."

"How, then? What greeting would you give him?"

"I would shake him respectfully by the hand, and ask as to his health
and that of his family."

"On my word, I think that such a greeting might please him more than the
bent knee and the rounded back, and yet, I think, my son of the woods,
that it were best not to lead you into paths where you would be lost, as
would any of the courtiers if you dropped them in the gorge of the
Saguenay. But _hola_! what comes here? It looks like one of the
carriages of the court."

A white cloud of dust, which had rolled towards them down the road, was
now so near that the glint of gilding and the red coat of the coachman
could be seen breaking out through it. As the two cavaliers reined
their horses aside to leave the roadway clear, the coach rumbled heavily
past them, drawn by two dapple grays, and the Horsemen caught a glimpse,
as it passed, of a beautiful but haughty face which looked out at them.
An instant afterwards a sharp cry had caused the driver to pull up his
horses, and a white hand beckoned to them through the carriage window.

"It is Madame de Montespan, the proudest woman in France," whispered
De Catinat. "She would speak with us, so do as I do."

He touched his horse with the spur, gave a _gambade_ which took him
across to the carriage, and then, sweeping off his hat, he bowed to his
horse's neck; a salute in which he was imitated, though in a somewhat
ungainly fashion, by his companion.

"Ha, captain!" said the lady, with no very pleasant face, "we meet
again."

"Fortune has ever been good to me, madame."

"It was not so this morning."

"You say truly. It gave me a hateful duty to perform."

"And you performed it in a hateful fashion."

"Nay, madame, what could I do more?"

The lady sneered, and her beautiful face turned as bitter as it could
upon occasion.

"You thought that I had no more power with the king. You thought that
my day was past. No doubt it seemed to you that you might reap favour
with the new by being the first to cast a slight upon the old."

"But, madame - "

"You may spare your protestations. I am one who judges by deeds and not
by words. Did you, then, think that my charm had so faded, that any
beauty which I ever have had is so withered?"

"Nay, madame, I were blind to think that."

"Blind as a noontide owl," said Amos Green with emphasis.

Madame de Montespan arched her eyebrows and glanced at her singular
admirer. "Your friend at least speaks that which he really feels," said
she. "At four o'clock to-day we shall see whether others are of the
same mind; and if they are, then it may be ill for those who mistook
what was but a passing shadow for a lasting cloud." She cast another
vindictive glance at the young guardsman, and rattled on once more upon
her way.

"Come on!" cried De Catinat curtly, for his companion was staring
open-mouthed after the carriage. "Have you never seen a woman before?"

"Never such a one as that."

"Never one with so railing a tongue, I dare swear," said De Catinat.

"Never one with so lovely a face. And yet there is a lovely face at the
Rue St. Martin also."

"You seem to have a nice taste in beauty, for all your woodland
training."

"Yes, for I have been cut away from women so much that when I stand
before one I feel that she is something tender and sweet and holy."

"You may find dames at the court who are both tender and sweet, but you
will look long, my friend, before you find the holy one. This one would
ruin me if she can, and only because I have done what it was my duty to
do. To keep oneself in this court is like coming down the La Chine
Rapids where there is a rock to right, and a rock to left, and another
perchance in front, and if you so much as graze one, where are you and
your birch canoe? But our rocks are women, and in our canoe we bear all
our worldly fortunes. Now here is another who would sway me over to her
side, and indeed I think it may prove to be the better side too."

They had passed through the gateway of the palace, and the broad
sweeping drive lay in front of them, dotted with carriages and horsemen.
On the gravel walks were many gaily dressed ladies, who strolled among
the flower-beds or watched the fountains with the sunlight glinting upon
their high water sprays. One of these, who had kept her eyes turned
upon the gate, came hastening forward the instant that De Catinat
appeared. It was Mademoiselle Nanon, the _confidante_ of Madame de
Maintenon.

"I am so pleased to see you, captain," she cried, "and I have waited so
patiently. Madame would speak with you. The king comes to her at
three, and we have but twenty minutes. I heard that you had gone to
Paris, and so I stationed myself here. Madame has something which she
would ask you."

"Then I will come at once. Ah, De Brissac, it is well met!"

A tall, burly officer was passing in the same uniform which De Catinat
wore. He turned at once, and came smiling towards his comrade.

"Ah, Amory, you have covered a league or two from the dust on your
coat!"

"We are fresh from Paris. But I am called on business. This is my
friend, Monsieur Amos Green. I leave him in your hands, for he is a
stranger from America, and would fain see all that you can show.
He stays with me at my quarters. And my horse, too, De Brissac.
You can give it to the groom."

Throwing the bridle to his brother officer, and pressing the hand of
Amos Green, De Catinat sprang from his horse, and followed at the top of
his speed in the direction which the young lady had already taken.



CHAPTER VIII.


THE RISING SUN.

The rooms which were inhabited by the lady who had already taken so
marked a position at the court of France were as humble as were her
fortunes at the time when they were allotted to her, but with that rare
tact and self-restraint which were the leading features in her
remarkable character, she had made no change in her living with the
increase of her prosperity, and forbore from provoking envy and jealousy
by any display of wealth or of power. In a side wing of the palace, far
from the central _salons_, and only to be reached by long corridors and
stairs, were the two or three small chambers upon which the eyes, first
of the court, then of France, and finally of the world, were destined to
be turned. In such rooms had the destitute widow of the poet Scarron
been housed when she had first been brought to court by Madame de
Montespan as the governess of the royal children, and in such rooms she
still dwelt, now that she had added to her maiden Francoise d'Aubigny
the title of Marquise de Maintenon, with the pension and estate which
the king's favour had awarded her. Here it was that every day the king
would lounge, finding in the conversation of a clever and virtuous woman
a charm and a pleasure which none of the professed wits of his sparkling
court had ever been able to give to him, and here, too, the more
sagacious of the courtiers were beginning to understand, was the point,
formerly to be found in the magnificent _salons_ of De Montespan, whence
flowed those impulses and tendencies which were so eagerly studied, and
so keenly followed up by all who wished to keep the favour of the king.
It was a simple creed, that of the court. Were the king pious, then let
all turn to their missals and their rosaries. Were he rakish, then who
so rakish as his devoted followers? But woe to the man who was rakish
when he should be praying, or who pulled a long face when the king wore
a laughing one! And thus it was that keen eyes were ever fixed upon
him, and upon every influence that came near him, so that the wary
courtier, watching the first subtle signs of a coming change, might so
order his conduct as to seem to lead rather than to follow.

The young guardsman had scarce ever exchanged a word with this powerful
lady, for it was her taste to isolate herself, and to appear with the
court only at the hours of devotion. It was therefore with some
feelings both of nervousness and of curiosity that he followed his guide
down the gorgeous corridors, where art and wealth had been strewn with
so lavish a hand. The lady paused in front of the chamber door, and
turned to her companion.

"Madame wishes to speak to you of what occurred this morning," said she.
"I should advise you to say nothing to madame about your creed, for it
is the only thing upon which her heart can be hard." She raised her
finger to emphasise the warning, and tapping at the door, she pushed it
open. "I have brought Captain de Catinat, madame," said she.

"Then let the captain step in." The voice was firm, and yet sweetly
musical.

Obeying the command, De Catinat found himself in a room which was no
larger and but little better furnished than that which was allotted to
his own use. Yet, though simple, everything in the chamber was
scrupulously neat and clean, betraying the dainty taste of a refined
woman. The stamped-leather furniture, the La Savonniere carpet, the
pictures of sacred subjects, exquisite from an artist's point of view,
the plain but tasteful curtains, all left an impression half religious
and half feminine but wholly soothing. Indeed, the soft light, the high
white statue of the Virgin in a canopied niche, with a perfumed red lamp
burning before it, and the wooden _prie-dieu_ with the red-edged
prayer-book upon the top of it, made the apartment look more like a
private chapel than a fair lady's boudoir.

On each side of the empty fireplace was a little green-covered
arm-chair, the one for madame and the other reserved for the use of the
king. A small three-legged stool between them was heaped with her
work-basket and her tapestry. On the chair which was furthest from the
door, with her back turned to the light, madame was sitting as the young
officer entered. It was her favourite position, and yet there were few
women of her years who had so little reason to fear the sun, for a
healthy life and active habits had left her with a clear skin and
delicate bloom which any young beauty of the court might have envied.
Her figure was graceful and queenly, her gestures and pose full of a
natural dignity, and her voice, as he had already remarked, most sweet
and melodious. Her face was handsome rather than beautiful, set in a
statuesque classical mould, with broad white forehead, firm, delicately
sensitive mouth, and a pair of large serene gray eyes, earnest and
placid in repose, but capable of reflecting the whole play of her soul,
from the merry gleam of humour to the quick flash of righteous anger.
An elevating serenity was, however, the leading expression of her
features, and in that she presented the strongest contrast to her rival,
whose beautiful face was ever swept by the emotion of the moment, and
who gleamed one hour and shadowed over the next like a corn-field in the
wind. In wit and quickness of tongue it is true that De Montespan had
the advantage, but the strong common-sense and the deeper nature of the
elder woman might prove in the end to be the better weapon. De Catinat,
at the moment, without having time to notice details, was simply
conscious that he was in the presence of a very handsome woman, and that
her large pensive eyes were fixed critically upon him, and seemed to be
reading his thoughts as they had never been read before.

"I think that I have already seen you, sir, have I not?"

"Yes, madame, I have once or twice had the honour of attending upon you
though it may not have been my good fortune to address you."

"My life is so quiet and retired that I fear that much of what is best
and worthiest at the court is unknown to me. It is the curse of such
places that evil flaunts itself before the eye and cannot be overlooked,
while the good retires in its modesty, so that at times we scarce dare
hope that it is there. You have served, monsieur?"

"Yes, madame. In the Lowlands, on the Rhine, and in Canada."

"In Canada! Ah! What nobler ambition could woman have than to be a
member of that sweet sisterhood which was founded by the holy Marie de
l'Incarnation and the sainted Jeanne le Ber at Montreal? It was but the
other day that I had an account of them from Father Godet des Marais.
What joy to be one of such a body, and to turn from the blessed work of
converting the heathen to the even more precious task of nursing back
health and strength into those of God's warriors who have been struck
down in the fight with Satan!"

It was strange to De Catinat, who knew well the sordid and dreadful
existence led by these same sisters, threatened ever with misery,
hunger, and the scalping-knife, to hear this lady at whose feet lay all
the good things of this earth speaking enviously of their lot.

"They are very good women," said he shortly, remembering Mademoiselle
Nanon's warning, and fearing to trench upon the dangerous subject.

"And doubtless you have had the privilege also of seeing the holy Bishop
Laval?"

"Yes, madame, I have seen Bishop Laval."

"And I trust that the Sulpitians still hold their own against the
Jesuits?"

"I have heard, madame, that the Jesuits are the stronger at Quebec, and
the others at Montreal."

"And who is your own director, monsieur?"

De Catinat felt that the worst had come upon him. "I have none,
madame."

"Ah, it is too common to dispense with a director, and yet I know not
how I could guide my steps in the difficult path which I tread if it
were not for mine. Who is your confessor, then?"

"I have none. I am of the Reformed Church, madame."

The lady gave a gesture of horror, and a sudden hardening showed itself
in mouth and eye. "What, in the court itself," she cried, "and in the
neighbourhood of the king's own person!"

De Catinat was lax enough in matters of faith, and held his creed rather
as a family tradition than from any strong conviction, but it hurt his
self-esteem to see himself regarded as though he had confessed to
something that was loathsome and unclean. "You will find, madame," said
he sternly, "that members of my faith have not only stood around the
throne of France, but have even seated themselves upon it."

"God has for His own all-wise purposes permitted it, and none should
know it better than I, whose grandsire, Theodore d'Aubigny, did so much
to place a crown upon the head of the great Henry. But Henry's eyes
were opened ere his end came, and I pray - oh, from my heart I pray - that
yours may be also."

She rose, and throwing herself down upon the _prie-dieu_ sunk her face
in her hands for some few minutes, during which the object of her
devotions stood in some perplexity in the middle of the room, hardly
knowing whether such an attention should be regarded as an insult or as
a favour. A tap at the door brought the lady back to this world again,
and her devoted attendant answered her summons to enter.

"The king is in the Hall of Victories, madame," said she. "He will be
here in five minutes."

"Very well. Stand outside, and let me know when he comes. Now, sir,"
she continued, when they were alone once more, "you gave a note of mine
to the king this morning?"

"I did, madame."

"And, as I understand, Madame de Montespan was refused admittance to the
_grand lever_?"

"She was, madame."

"But she waited for the king in the passage?"

"She did."

"And wrung from him a promise that he would see her to-day?"

"Yes, madame."

"I would not have you tell me that which it may seem to you a breach of
your duty to tell. But I am fighting now against a terrible foe, and
for a great stake. Do you understand me?"

De Catinat bowed.

"Then what do I mean?"

"I presume that what madame means is that she is fighting for the king's
favour with the lady you mentioned."

"As heaven is my judge, I have no thought of myself. I am fighting with
the devil for the king's soul."

"'Tis the same thing, madame."

The lady smiled. "If the king's body were in peril, I could call on the
aid of his faithful guards, and not less so now, surely, when so much
more is at stake. Tell me, then, at what hour was the king to meet the
marquise in her room?"

"At four, madame."

"I thank you. You have done me a service, and I shall not forget it."

"The king comes, madame," said Mademoiselle Nanon, again protruding her
head.

"Then you must go, captain. Pass through the other room, and so into
the outer passage. And take this. It is Bossuet's statement of the
Catholic faith. It has softened the hearts of others, and may yours.
Now, adieu!"

De Catinat passed out through another door, and as he did so he glanced
back. The lady had her back to him, and her hand was raised to the
mantel-piece. At the instant that he looked she moved her neck, and he
could see what she was doing. She was pushing back the long hand of the
clock.



CHAPTER IX.


LE ROI S'AMUSE.

Captain de Catinat had hardly vanished through the one door before the
other was thrown open by Mademoiselle Nanon, and the king entered the
room. Madame de Maintenon rose with a pleasant smile and curtsied
deeply, but there was no answering light upon her visitor's face, and he
threw himself down upon the vacant arm-chair with a pouting lip and a
frown upon his forehead.

"Nay, now this is a very bad compliment," she cried, with the gaiety
which she could assume whenever it was necessary to draw the king from
his blacker humours. "My poor little dark room has already cast a
shadow over you."

"Nay; it is Father la Chaise and the Bishop of Meaux who have been after
me all day like two hounds on a stag, with talk of my duty and my
position and my sins, with judgment and hell-fire ever at the end of
their exhortations."

"And what would they have your Majesty do?"

"Break the promise which I made when I came upon the throne, and which
my grandfather made before me. They wish me to recall the Edict of
Nantes, and drive the Huguenots from the kingdom."

"Oh, but your Majesty must not trouble your mind about such matters."

"You would not have me do it, madame?"

"Not if it is to be a grief to your Majesty."

"You have, perchance, some soft feeling for the religion of your youth?"

"Nay, sire; I have nothing but hatred for heresy."

"And yet you would not have them thrust out?"

"Bethink you, sire, that the Almighty can Himself incline their hearts
to better things if He is so minded, even as mine was inclined. May you
not leave it in His hands?"

"On my word," said Louis, brightening, "it is well put. I shall see if
Father la Chaise can find an answer to that. It is hard to be
threatened with eternal flames because one will not ruin one's kingdom.
Eternal torment! I have seen the face of a man who had been in the
Bastille, for fifteen years. It was like a dreadful book, with a scar
or a wrinkle to mark every hour of that death in life. But Eternity!"
He shuddered, and his eyes were filled with the horror of his thought.
The higher motives had but little power over his soul, as those about
him had long discovered, but he was ever ready to wince at the image of
the terrors to come.

"Why should you think of such things, sire?" said the lady, in her rich,
soothing voice. "What have you to fear, you who have been the first son
of the Church?"

"You think that I am safe, then?"

"Surely, sire."

"But I have erred, and erred deeply. You have yourself said as much."

"But that is all over, sire. Who is there who is without stain?
You have turned away from temptation. Surely, then, you have earned
your forgiveness."

"I would that the queen were living once more. She would find me a
better man."

"I would that she were, sire."

"And she should know that it was to you that she owed the change.
Oh, Francoise, you are surely my guardian angel, who has taken bodily
form! How can I thank you for what you have done for me?" He leaned
forward and took her hand, but at the touch a sudden fire sprang into
his eyes, and he would have passed his other arm round her had she not
risen hurriedly to avoid the embrace.

"Sire!" said she, with a rigid face and one finger upraised.

"You are right, you are right, Francoise. Sit down, and I will control
myself. Still at the same tapestry, then! My workers at the Gobelins
must look to their laurels." He raised one border of the glossy roll,
while she, having reseated herself, though not without a quick
questioning glance at her companion, took the other end into her lap and
continued her work.

"Yes, sire. It is a hunting scene in your forests at Fontainebleau.
A stag of ten tines, you see, and the hounds in full cry, and a gallant
band of cavaliers and ladies. Has your Majesty ridden to-day?"

"No. How is it, Francoise, that you have such a heart of ice?"

"I would it were so, sire. Perhaps you have hawked, then?"

"No. But surely no man's love has ever stirred you! And yet you have



Online LibraryArthur Conan DoyleThe Refugees → online text (page 6 of 28)