second time, and assuming a posture full of humility and entreaty, murmured, "Forgive me, sire." "What need is there for my forgiveness?" asked Louis. "Sire, I have been guilty of a great fault; nay, more than a great fault, a great crime." "You?" "Sire, I have offended your majesty." "Not in the slightest degree in the world," replied Louis XIV. "I implore you, sire, not to maintain towards me that terrible seriousness of manner which reveals your majesty's just anger. I feel I have offended you, sire; but I wish to explain to you how it was that I have not offended you of my own accord." "In the first place," said the king, "in what way can you possibly have offended me? I cannot perceive how. Surely not on account of a young girl's harmless and very innocent jest? You turned the credulity of a young man into ridicule - it was very natural to do so: any other woman in your place would have done the same." "Oh! your majesty overwhelms me by your remark." "Why so?" "Because, if I had been the author of the jest, it would not have been innocent." "Well, is that all you had to say to me in soliciting an audience?" said the king, as though about to turn away. Thereupon La Valliere, in an abrupt and a broken voice, her eyes dried up by the fire of her tears, made a step towards the king, and said, "Did your majesty hear everything?" "Everything, what?" "Everything I said beneath the royal oak." "I did not lose a syllable." "And now, after your majesty really heard all, are you able to think I abused your credibility?" "Credulity; yes, indeed, you have selected the very word." "And your majesty did not suppose that a poor girl like myself might possibly be compelled to submit to the will of others?" "Forgive me," returned the king; "but I shall never be able to understand that she, who of her own free will could express herself so unreservedly beneath the royal oak, would allow herself to be influenced to such an extent by the direction of others." "But the threat held out against me, sire." "Threat! who threatened you - who dared to threaten you?" "Those who have the right to do so, sire." "I do not recognize any one as possessing the right to threaten the humblest of my subjects." "Forgive me, sire, but near your majesty, even, there are persons sufficiently high in position to have, or to believe that they possess, the right of injuring a young girl, without fortune, and possessing only her reputation." "In what way injure her?" "In depriving her of her reputation, by disgracefully expelling her from the court." "Oh! Mademoiselle de la Valliere," said the king bitterly, "I prefer those persons who exculpate themselves without incriminating others." "Sire!" "Yes; and I confess that I greatly regret to perceive, that an easy justification, as your own would have been, is now complicated in my presence by a tissue of reproaches and imputations against others." "And which you do not believe?" exclaimed La Valliere. The king remained silent. "Nay, but tell me!" repeated La Valliere, vehemently. "I regret to confess it," repeated the king, bowing coldly. The young girl uttered a deep groan, striking her hands together in despair. "You do not believe me, then," she said to the king, who still remained silent, while poor La Valliere's features became visibly changed at his continued silence. "Therefore, you believe," she said, "that I pre-arranged this ridiculous, this infamous plot, of trifling, in so shameless a manner, with your majesty." "Nay," said the king, "it was neither ridiculous nor infamous; it was not even a plot; merely a jest, more or less amusing, and nothing more." "Oh!" murmured the young girl, "the king does not, and will not believe me, then?" "No, indeed, I will not believe you," said the king. "Besides, in point of fact, what can be more natural? The king, you argue, follows me, listens to me, watches me; the king wishes perhaps to amuse himself at my expense, I will amuse myself at his, and as the king is very tender- hearted, I will take his heart by storm." La Valliere hid her face in her hands, as she stifled her sobs. The king continued pitilessly; he was revenging himself upon the poor victim before him for all he had himself suffered. "Let us invent, then, this story of my loving him and preferring him to others. The king is so simple and so conceited that he will believe me; and then we can go and tell others how credulous the king is, and can enjoy a laugh at his expense." "Oh!" exclaimed La Valliere, "you think that, you believe that! - it is frightful." "And," pursued the king, "that is not all; if this self-conceited prince take our jest seriously, if he should be imprudent enough to exhibit before others anything like delight at it, well, in that case, the king will be humiliated before the whole court; and what a delightful story it will be, too, for him to whom I am really attached, in fact part of my dowry for my husband, to have the adventure to relate of the monarch who was so amusingly deceived by a young girl." "Sire!" exclaimed La Valliere, her mind bewildered, almost wandering, indeed, "not another word, I implore you; do you not see that you are killing me?" "A jest, nothing but a jest," murmured the king, who, however, began to be somewhat affected. La Valliere fell upon her knees, and that so violently, that the sound could be heard upon the hard floor. "Sire," she said, "I prefer shame to disloyalty." "What do you mean?" inquired the king, without moving a step to raise the young girl from her knees. "Sire, when I shall have sacrificed my honor and my reason both to you, you will perhaps believe in my loyalty. The tale which was related to you in Madame's apartments, and by Madame herself, is utterly false; and that which I said beneath the great oak - " "Well!" "That is the only truth." "What!" exclaimed the king. "Sire," exclaimed La Valliere, hurried away by the violence of her emotions, "were I to die of shame on the very spot where my knees are fixed, I would repeat it until my latest breath; I said that I loved you, and it is true; I do love you." "You!" "I have loved you, sire, from the very first day I ever saw you; from the moment when at Blois, where I was pining away my existence, your royal looks, full of light and life, were first bent upon me. I love you still, sire; it is a crime of high treason, I know, that a poor girl like myself should love her sovereign, and should presume to tell him so. Punish me for my audacity, despise me for my shameless immodesty; but do not ever say, do not ever think, that I have jested with or deceived you. I belong to a family whose loyalty has been proved, sire, and I, too, love my king." Suddenly her strength, voice, and respiration ceased, and she fell forward, like the flower Virgil alludes to, which the scythe of the reaper severed in the midst of the grass. The king, at these words, at this vehement entreaty, no longer retained any ill-will or doubt in his mind: his whole heart seemed to expand at the glowing breath of an affection which proclaimed itself in such noble and courageous language. When, therefore, he heard the passionate confession, his strength seemed to fail him, and he hid his face in his hands. But when he felt La Valliere's hands clinging to his own, when their warm pressure fired his blood, he bent forward, and passing his arm round La Valliere's waist, he raised her from the ground and pressed her against his heart. But she, her drooping head fallen forward on her bosom, seemed to have ceased to live. The king, terrified, called out for Saint-Aignan. Saint-Aignan, who had carried his discretion so far as to remain without stirring in his corner, pretending to wipe away a tear, ran forward at the king's summons. He then assisted Louis to seat the young girl upon a couch, slapped her hands, sprinkled some Hungary water over her face, calling out all the while, "Come, come, it is all over; the king believes you, and forgives you. There, there now! take care, or you will agitate his majesty too much; his majesty is so sensitive, so tender-hearted. Now, really, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, you must pay attention, for the king is very pale." The fact was, the king was visibly losing color. But La Valliere did not move. "Do pray recover," continued Saint-Aignan. "I beg, I implore you; it is really time you should; think only of one thing, that if the king should become unwell, I should be obliged to summon his physician. What a state of things that would be! So do pray rouse yourself; make an effort, pray do, and do so at once, my dear." It was difficult to display more persuasive eloquence than Saint-Aignan did, but something still more powerful, and of a more energetic nature than this eloquence, aroused La Valliere. The king, who was kneeling before her, covered the palms of her hands with those burning kisses which are to the hands what a kiss upon the lips is to the face. La Valliere's senses returned to her; she languidly opened her eyes and, with a dying look, murmured, "Oh! sire, has your majesty pardoned me, then?" The king did not reply, for he was still too much overcome. Saint-Aignan thought it was his duty again to retire, for he observed the passionate devotion which was displayed in the king's gaze. La Valliere rose. "And now, sire, that I have justified myself, at least I trust so, in your majesty's eyes, grant me leave to retire into a convent. I shall bless your majesty all my life, and I shall die thanking and loving Heaven for having granted me one hour of perfect happiness." "No, no," replied the king, "you will live here blessing Heaven, on the contrary, but loving Louis, who will make your existence one of perfect felicity - Louis who loves you - Louis who swears it." "Oh! sire, sire!" And upon this doubt of La Valliere, the king's kisses became so warm that Saint-Aignan thought it was his duty to retire behind the tapestry.
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