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"There will be no need," added Mironsac. "I have but to tell the King--"
"But, my friend," I exclaimed impatiently, "I am to die in the morning!"
"And the King shall be told to-day - now, at once. I will go to him."
I stared askance a moment; then the thought of the uproar that I had heard recurring to me, "Has the King arrived already?" I exclaimed.
"Naturally, monsieur. How else do I come to be here? I am in His Majesty's train."
At that I grew again impatient. I thought of Roxalanne and of how she must be suffering, and I bethought me that every moment Mironsac now remained in my cell was another moment of torture for that poor child. So I urged him to be gone at once and carry news of my confinement to His Majesty. He obeyed me, and I was left alone once more, to pace up and down in my narrow cell, a prey to an excitement such as I should have thought I had outlived.
At the end of a half-hour Castelroux returned alone.
"Well?" I cried the moment the door opened, and without giving him so much as time to enter. "What news?"
"Mironsac tells me that His Majesty is more overwrought than he has ever seen him. You are to come to the Palace at once. I have an order here from the King."
We went in a coach, and with all privacy, for he informed me that His Majesty desired the affair to be kept secret, having ends of his own to serve thereby.
I was left to wait some moments in an ante-chamber, whilst Castelroux announced me to the King; then I was ushered into a small apartment, furnished very sumptuously in crimson and gold, and evidently set apart for His Majesty's studies or devotions. As I entered, Louis's back was towards me. He was standing - a tall, spare figure in black - leaning against the frame of a window, his head supported on his raised left arm and his eyes intent upon the gardens below.
He remained so until Castelroux had withdrawn and the door had closed again; then, turning suddenly, he confronted me, his back to the light, so that his face was in a shadow that heightened its gloom and wonted weariness.
"Voila, Monsieur de Bardelys!" was his greeting, and unfriendly. "See the pass to which your disobedience of my commands has brought you."
"I would submit, Sire," I answered, "that I have been brought to it by the incompetence of Your Majesty's judges and the ill-will of others whom Your Majesty honours with too great a confidence, rather than by this same disobedience of mine."
"The one and the other, perhaps," he said more softly. "Though, after all, they appear to have had a very keen nose for a traitor. Come, Bardelys, confess yourself that."
"I? A traitor?"
He shrugged his shoulders, and laughed without any conspicuous mirth.
"Is not a traitor one who runs counter to the wishes; of his King? And are you not, therefore, a traitor, whether they call you Lesperon or Bardelys? But there," he ended more softly still, and flinging himself into a chair as he spoke, "I have been so wearied since you left me, Marcel. They have the best intentions in the world, these dullards, and some of them love me even; but they are tiresome all. Even Chatellerault, when he has a fancy for a jest - as in your case perpetrates it with the grace of a bear, the sprightliness of an elephant."
"Jest?" said I.
"You find it no jest, Marcel? Pardieu, who shall blame you? He would be a man of unhealthy humour that could relish such a pleasantry as that of being sentenced to death. But tell me of it. The whole story, Marcel. I have not heard a story worth the listening to since - since you left us."
"Would it please you, Sire, to send for the Comte de Chatellerault ere I begin?" I asked.
"Chatellerault? No, no." He shook his head whimsically. "Chatellerault has had his laugh already, and, like the ill-mannered dog he is, he has kept it to himself. I think, Marcel, that it is our turn now. I have purposely sent Chatellerault away that he may gain no notion of the catastrophic jest we are preparing him in return."
The words set me in the very best of humours, and to that it may be due that presently, as I warmed to my narrative, I lent it a vigour that drew His Majesty out of his wonted apathy and listlessness. He leaned forward when I told him of my encounter with the dragoons at Mirepoix, and how first I had committed the false step of representing myself to be Lesperon.
Encouraged by his interest, I proceeded, and I told my story with as much piquancy as I was master of, repressing only those slight matters which might reflect upon Monsieur de Lavedan's loyalty, but otherwise dealing frankly with His Majesty, even down to the genuineness of the feelings I entertained for Roxalanne. Often he laughed, more often still he nodded approvingly, in understanding and sympathy, whilst now and then he purred his applause. But towards the end, when I came to the matter of the Tribunal of Toulouse, of how my trial was conducted, and of the part played in it by Chatellerault, his face grew set and hard.
"It is true - all this that you tell me?" he cried harshly.
"As true as the Gospels. If you deem an oath necessary, Sire, I swear by my honour that I have uttered nothing that is false, and that, in connection with Monsieur de Chatellerault, even as I have suppressed nothing, so also have I exaggerated nothing."
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Bardelys the Magnificent -by- Rafael Sabatini