"At these words the princesses and all who heard them burst into a fit of weeping, which was only interrupted by the arrival of the confessor, who, approaching the bedside of the penitent, held a conference with him of nearly a quarter of an hour: this being concluded, the king, in a low and firm voice, inquired for his almoner. The latter soon presented himself, anxious to discharge the duties of his sacred office. His majesty kept continually repeating to his afflicted children, 'My daughters, why should what I am now about to do agitate or alarm you? You are well aware, that having the small-pox, the etiquette established in my family compels me to receive the last solemn rites of the church, and I but acquit myself of an obligation in submitting to it.'
"The tone in which the king spoke convinced his attendants that he rather strove to re-assure himself than his children, by the persuasion that the receiving extreme unction was not so much the consequence of his own dangerous state as a mere act of obedience to an established custom. It was then decided that the sacred ceremony should take place at seven o'clock in the morning; and here arose some little embarrassment; the ecclesiastics insisting upon the necessity of the king's making some striking and open atonement for what they were pleased to term the scandal of his private life.
"The king's chamber now presented a picture at once solemn and gloomy. Grouped together on one side the bed might be seen the different noblemen in attendance upon his majesty; a little removed stood the clergy, concealed from the invalid by the closely-drawn curtains; in the midst of these contending parties were the princesses going from one to the other, vainly seeking by mild and gentle mediation to produce a satisfactory arrangement. It was at length understood, that, on account of the extreme weakness of the invalid, the grand almoner should pronounce in his name a kind of honorable apology for past offences.
"You can scarcely imagine, madam, the universal consternation spread throughout the chateau by the information that the king was about to receive the last rites of his church. The terror and alarm became overpowering for a while, but subsiding into a more religious feeling crowds of persons followed with solemn reverence the holy procession as it passed along, bearing the holy sacrament to the expiring monarch. At the moment when it was administered the grand almoner, turning towards all present, pronounced the following words in the king's name:--
"'Gentlemen, the weakness of his majesty preventing him from expressing himself, he has commanded me to inform you, that although he is responsible to God alone for his conduct, he yet regrets having caused any scandal to his people by the irregularities of his life, that he sincerely repents of his sins, and, should Providence restore him to health, he purposes living henceforward in all the virtue and morality of his youth, in the defence and maintenance of religion, in preserving a true faith, and in watching over the best interests of his people.'
I learned also, through another channel, that (according to
custom) forty hours' prayer had been enjoined in every church in France to implore the mercy of heaven for the king. I heard too that the shrine of Saint Genevieve had been displayed for the veneration of true believers.
I passed a miserable night, dreaming of graves, winding-sheets, and funeral-torches, from which I only awoke to receive the morning's despatches. Alas! the news but confirmed the distressing state of the king. The very solitude in which I was left at Ruel might alone have served to convince me of my misfortune; for, with the exception of the duc de Cosse, no person came near us. M. de Cosse invited me to walk with him in the garden; I accepted the arm of this noble friend, and we directed our steps towards the wood. When we were there secure from interruption, the duke inquired what were my plans for the future?
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