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- Louise de la Valliere - 60/112 -
La Valliere sighed, but, without the courage to oppose her royal lover's wish, she repeated, "To-morrow, then, since you desire it, sire," and with these words she ran lightly up the stairs, and disappeared from her lover's gaze.
"Well, sire?" inquired Saint-Aignan, when she had left.
"Well, Saint-Aignan, yesterday I thought myself the happiest of men."
"And does your majesty, then, regard yourself to-day," said the comte, smiling, "as the unhappiest of men?"
"No; but my love for her is an unquenchable thirst; in vain do I drink, in vain do I swallow the drops of water which your industry procures for me; the more I drink, the more unquenchable it becomes."
"Sire, that is in some degree your own fault, and your majesty alone has made the position such as it is."
"You are right."
"In that case, therefore, the means to be happy, is to fancy yourself satisfied, and to wait."
"Wait! you know that word, then?"
"There, there, sire - do not despair: I have already been at work on your behalf - I have still other resources in store." The king shook his head in a despairing manner.
"What, sire! have you not been satisfied hitherto?"
"Oh! yes, indeed, yes, my dear Saint-Aignan; but invent, for Heaven's sake, invent some further project yet."
"Sire, I undertake to do my best, and that is all that any one can do."
The king wished to see the portrait again, as he was unable to see the original. He pointed out several alterations to the painter and left the room, and then Saint-Aignan dismissed the artist. The easel, paints, and painter himself, had scarcely gone, when Malicorne showed his head in the doorway. He was received by Saint-Aignan with open arms, but still with a little sadness, for the cloud which had passed across the royal sun, veiled, in its turn, the faithful satellite, and Malicorne at a glance perceived the melancholy that brooded on Saint-Aignan's face.
"Oh, monsieur le comte," he said, "how sad you seem!"
"And good reason too, my dear Monsieur Malicorne. Will you believe that the king is still dissatisfied?"
"With his staircase, do you mean?"
"Oh, no; on the contrary, he is delighted with the staircase."
"The decorations of the apartments, I suppose, don't please him."
"Oh! he has not even thought of that. No, indeed, it seems that what has dissatisfied the king - "
"I will tell you, monsieur le comte, - he is dissatisfied at finding himself the fourth person at a rendezvous of this kind. How is it possible you could not have guessed that?"
"Why, how is it likely I could have done so, dear M. Malicorne, when I followed the king's instructions to the very letter?"
"Did his majesty really insist on your being present?"
"And also required that the painter, whom I met downstairs just now, should be here, too?"
"He insisted upon it."
"In that case, I can easily understand why his majesty is dissatisfied."
"What! dissatisfied that I have so punctually and so literally obeyed his orders? I don't understand you."
Malicorne began to scratch his ear, as he asked, "What time did the king fix for the rendezvous in your apartments?"
"And you were waiting for the king?"
"Ever since half-past one; it would have been a fine thing, indeed, to have been unpunctual with his majesty."
Malicorne, notwithstanding his respect for Saint-Aignan, could not help smiling. "And the painter," he said, "did the king wish him to be here at two o'clock, also?"
"No; but I had him waiting here from midday. Far better, you know, for a painter to be kept waiting a couple of hours than the king a single minute."
Malicorne began to laugh aloud. "Come, dear Monsieur Malicorne," said Saint-Aignan, "laugh less at me, and speak a little more freely, I beg."
"Well, then, monsieur le comte, if you wish the king to be a little more satisfied the next time he comes - "
"'_Ventre saint-gris!_' as his grandfather used to say; of course I wish it."
"Well, all you have to do is, when the king comes to-morrow, to be obliged to go away on a most pressing matter of business, which cannot possibly be postponed, and stay away for twenty minutes."
"What! leave the king alone for twenty minutes?" cried Saint-Aignan, in alarm.
"Very well, do as you like; don't pay any attention to what I say," said Malicorne, moving towards the door.
"Nay, nay, dear Monsieur Malicorne; on the contrary, go on - I begin to understand you. But the painter - "
"Oh! the painter must be half an hour late."
"Half an hour - do you really think so?"
"Yes, I do, decidedly."
"Very well, then, I will do as you tell me."
"And my opinion is, that you will be doing perfectly right. Will you allow me to call upon you for the latest news to-morrow?"
"I have the honor to be your most respectful servant, M. de Saint- Aignan," said Malicorne, bowing profoundly and retiring from the room backwards.
"There is no doubt that fellow has more invention than I have," said Saint-Aignan, as if compelled by his conviction to admit it.
Chapter XXXVII: Hampton Court.
The revelation we have witnessed, that Montalais made to La Valliere, in a preceding chapter, very naturally makes us return to the principal hero of this tale, a poor wandering knight, roving about at the king's caprice. If our readers will be good enough to follow us, we will, in his company, cross that strait, more stormy than the Euripus, which separates Calais from Dover; we will speed across that green and fertile country, with its numerous little streams; through Maidstone, and many other villages and towns, each prettier than the other; and, finally, arrive at London. From thence, like bloodhounds following a track, after having ascertained that Raoul had made his first stay at Whitehall, his second at St. James's, and having learned that he had been warmly received by Monk, and introduced to the best society of Charles II.'s court, we will follow him to one of Charles II.'s summer residences near the lively little village of Kingston, at Hampton Court, situated on the Thames. The river is not, at that spot, the boastful highway which bears upon its broad bosom its thousands of travelers; nor are its waters black and troubled as those of Cocytus, as it boastfully asserts, "I, too, am cousin of the old ocean." No, at Hampton Court it is a soft and murmuring stream, with moss-fringed banks, reflecting, in its broad mirror, the willows and beeches which ornament its sides, and on which may occasionally be seen a light bark indolently reclining among the tall reeds, in a little creek formed of alders and forget-me-nots. The surrounding country on all sides smiled in happiness and wealth; the brick cottages from whose chimneys the blue smoke was slowly ascending in wreaths, peeped forth from the belts of green holly which environed them; children dressed in red frocks appeared and disappeared amidst the high grass, like poppies bowed by the gentler breath of the passing breeze. The sheep, ruminating with half-closed eyes, lay lazily about under the shadow of the stunted aspens, while, far and near, the kingfishers, plumed with emerald and gold, skimmed swiftly along the surface of the water, like a magic ball heedlessly touching, as he passed, the line of his brother angler, who sat watching in his boat the fish as they rose to the surface of the sparkling stream. High above this paradise of dark shadows and soft light, rose the palace of Hampton Court, built by Wolsey - a residence the haughty cardinal had been obliged, timid courtier that he was, to offer to his master, Henry VIII., who had glowered with envy and cupidity at the magnificent new home. Hampton Court, with its brick walls, its large windows, its handsome iron gates, as well as its curious bell turrets, its retired covered walks, and interior fountains, like those of the Alhambra, was a perfect bower of roses, jasmine, and clematis. Every sense, sight and smell particularly, was gratified, and the reception-rooms formed a very charming framework for the pictures of love which Charles II. unrolled among the voluptuous paintings of Titian, of Pordenone and of Van Dyck; the same Charles whose father's portrait – the martyr king - was hanging in his gallery, and who could show upon the wainscots of the various apartments the holes made by the balls of the puritanical followers of Cromwell, when on the 24th of August, 1648, at the time they had brought Charles I. prisoner to Hampton Court. There it was that the king, intoxicated with pleasure and adventure, held his court - he, who, a poet in feeling, thought himself justified in redeeming, by a whole day of voluptuousness, every minute which had been
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