1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 22
It had been almost an afterthought: when the radio message came early in the morning, and was transcribed and placed into the cardinal’s hands, he put aside everything and prepared to depart. In his haste he had almost left the watch sitting on his desk in its prescribed place, a finely-crafted instrument ticking away the seconds beneath the exquisite sapphire glass.
Richelieu had often picked up the timepiece, a gift from a courtier who had obtained it in some way from some up-timer. It bore the name Cartier, the family surname of the prestigious watchmaker of a Paris that never would be — but it put Étienne Servien in mind of the great explorer who had uncovered the mysteries of the North American coast a century ago.
When he took it up, turning it this way and that to best catch the light, Richelieu seemed lost in its depths. It seemed to Servien that the minute workings cast a spell upon him, reminding him that time was fleeting (as the philosophers were eager to say).
The day of the message, however, permitted no time for reflection, no time to be ensorcelled by Grantvilleur wonders. Servien knew its contents at once, though it was passed to him sealed — the sender, a coded name, told the entire story. He entered his master’s study, finding him bent over his work table upon which was spread a great map of the Germanies.
“What is it?” he said, without looking up.
“A message, Eminence.” Servien proffered the sheet of paper, folded once and sealed. Richelieu glanced at his intendant, took the message, and upon noting the name on the outside quickly slit it apart and looked at it, his eyes darting down the sheet and then back at Servien.
“Who else knows of this?”
“Other than the radio operator and myself, no one.”
“You are sure.”
“I came directly to you, Eminence,” Servien said. “The call came in not ten minutes ago.”
“There is no time to lose. Present yourself to Monsieur de Saint-Simon, if you please, and inform him that I will wait on His Majesty presently.”
“As you wish.”
“And, Servien . . . I need not say that you are to speak of this to no other. We did not expect this for some time, but neither did our enemies.”
“If they know of it at all.”
“I do not doubt that they do, despite our best attempts to keep it secret.” Richelieu permitted himself a smile. “But if all is well, they will be unable to interfere. All that I have worked for, these past few years, will reach its fruition — and there will be nothing that Monsieur can do about it.”
Richelieu was admitted to the king’s presence without announcement or ceremony. At this early hour he was untroubled by the court, and often spent his time with one or another project that ill-befit a monarch. The cardinal was not about to gainsay his master and the use of his time — but it meant that he might be in the dairy, or the stable, or a carpenter’s or smith’s shop rather than the royal apartments.
“Ah,” the king said, without turning around from the bench at which he sat, working on some project. “Monsieur Saint-Simon, I trust you found –”
Richelieu cleared his throat. Louis turned suddenly, his face set in a mask of displeasure, as if annoyed that he might be disturbed by any but his first gentleman of the bedchamber, the young Saint-Simon — the latest favorite upon whom he had heaped honors and titles. Few would stand before the king when he was thus annoyed; Richelieu merely waited patiently.
“Ah. It’s you.”
“At your service, Sire,” the cardinal answered, bowing, then folding his hands in front of him. “We have a received a message.”
“The message,” he said. “The one we have been awaiting.”
“Really!” The king stood, losing all interest in the project that had been occupying him. “Really. We are — we are somewhat early, aren’t we?”
“Shorter than the customary term, my King. But I am informed that all is well in hand. I intend to depart at once and ask your leave to go.”
“At once? I –”
Monsieur de Rouvroy, Seigneur de Saint-Simon, swept into the room at just that moment from the other hallway. He held a basket filled with tools and bits of metal and leather and began talking at once. “I think I found everything you wanted, but it was a bit of work, so I beg your pardon for being late, but –”
He stopped suddenly, noticing the presence of Cardinal Richelieu.
Richelieu looked at him, stony-faced, his anger visible in his eyes. The young man reddened.
“You have our leave to go,” Louis said without turning. “Go — go find yourself something to break your fast.”
“As Your Majesty wishes,” he said. He set the basket on the king’s work-table and backed slowly out of the room, never taking his eyes from Richelieu.
When he was gone, Louis rolled his eyes. “You have frightened the man, Eminence. He’s quite harmless, really.”
“He is Captain of St. Germain and Versailles. He should not frighten so easily. I should have expected a trifle more decorum.”
“Saint-Simon and I had set about a — a project. I do not think he expected anyone else to be here.”
“I shall not trouble Your Majesty for very long.”
“No indeed. And I am sure he will find something to — to amuse himself while I am gone.”
“Yes. Of course. I will accompany you, Richelieu. I wish to see what has — come of our efforts.”
Richelieu paused. He had not expected this response. “My king, it had been my intention to leave at once. I do not think the proper guard could be assembled quickly to escort you. I intended to travel in haste –”
“I don’t think we need any of that, do we?” The king looked away from his minister, as if he was distracted by something on the escritoire. Richelieu could not see it clearly but knew what it was: a small cameo locket bearing the likeness of his queen. Now that matters regarding the heir had been arranged, the king seemed much more at ease with a display of affection toward Anne, even in something so trivial as a keepsake.
“I don’t think I take Your Majesty’s meaning.”
“I believe that we can dispense, dispense with an honor guard. I can be prepared to ride within the hour.”
“But . . . the safety of the royal person –”
“I shall take care to be armed and attired. I have ridden to war before, as you know. My lady the queen is more than — more than a month early in her labor, mon Cardinal, and even if my enemies suspected that she is with child, they do not expect her to give birth now. It is all a surprise. I shall ride as one of your gentlemen-at-arms.”
“I hardly think that is appropriate, Sire.”
“Oh, nonsense.” He furnished Richelieu with a royal wave and favored him with a smile. It was truly a wonder. Richelieu had seen Louis in every disposition, but in most cases he was distracted, suspicious or unhappy — his oncoming fatherhood had returned him to the lightheartedness of his youth. “I — I am sure that your guard-captain can find me an appropriate set of clothes. I will be just another member of your escort — at least until we reach the chateau.”
“I am sorry to disagree with Your Majesty, but I believe that this exposes you to unnecessary risk. There is a radio at Baronville. A message can reach you in due course and you can make your progress in state when the child is born. There is no need –”
“Need? You speak — speak of need?” Louis faced him directly. Richelieu immediately sensed a subtle change in his royal master’s mood. He was all too well versed in the way in which Louis could instantly shift from one affectation to another.
At this delicate stage, he thought to himself, I must tread very softly . . .
When Richelieu did not respond, the king continued, pointing a finger at him. “For a quarter of a century I have been king of France, and through all of it I have had to respond to needs. To my — to my mother and her interminable demands; to my sisters, and their requirements for proper marriages; to my feckless brother, who can no longer live in this realm, but to whom concession after concession was extended while he let his henchman go to the gallows or the block . . . to the Huguenots, to the Pope, to every foreign nation that placed demands on my realm.
“And now at last I have what we most desire: an heir to the throne, an end to the intrigues of my lord of Orléans and all of his — his sycophants and co-conspirators — and the queen tied by the strongest apron-string of all to this realm instead of the realm of her birth, the realm — the realm of Spain. You would deny me the pleasure of being present when that happens?”
“Your Majesty, I –”
“Answer me, Monseigneur, if you please. You would deny me this?”
“No,” Richelieu said. “No, of course not. My hesitation derives not from selfishness but from care for your person and your safety. Of course you can take care of yourself as a gentleman and soldier.” He offered a deep bow. “If I have offended, I humbly beg forgiveness.”
While his head was still inclined, he could not see Louis’ face, but his posture altered and relaxed.
“No,” the king said at last. “No, my old friend.” A hand came out and took his, and Richelieu stood straight. The king was smiling again. “You have not offended,” Louis said. “Your concern is most — most understandable. But all is in order. I shall be perfectly safe in your company.”