Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 10.

Death, Mass, or the Bastille.

Marguerite, as we have said, had shut the door and returned to her chamber. But as she entered, panting, she saw Gillonne, who, terror-struck, was leaning against the door of the closet, staring at the traces of blood on the bed, the furniture, and the carpet.

“Ah! madame!” she cried when she saw the queen. “Oh! madame! tell me, is he dead?”

“Silence!” said Marguerite in that tone of voice which gives some indication of the importance of the command.

Gillonne was silent.

Marguerite then took from her purse a tiny gilded key, opened the closet door, and showed the young man to the servant. La Mole had succeeded in getting to his feet and making his way to the window. A small poniard, such as women at that time were in the habit of carrying, was at hand, and when he heard the door opening he had seized it.

“Fear nothing, sir,” said Marguerite; “for, on my soul, you are in safety!”

La Mole sank on his knees.

“Oh, madame,” he cried, “you are more than a queen — you are a goddess!”

“Do not agitate yourself, sir,” said Marguerite, “your blood is still flowing. Oh, look, Gillonne, how pale he is — let us see where you are wounded.”

“Madame,” said La Mole, trying to fix on certain parts of his body the pain which pervaded his whole frame, “I think I have a dagger-thrust in my shoulder, another in my chest — the other wounds are not worth bothering about.”

“We will see,” said Marguerite. “Gillonne, bring me my balsam casket.”

Gillonne obeyed, and returned holding in one hand a casket, and in the other a silver-gilt ewer and some fine Holland linen.

“Help me to lift him, Gillonne,” said Queen Marguerite; “for in attempting to get up the poor gentleman has lost all his strength.”

“But, madame,” said La Mole, “I am wholly confused. Indeed, I cannot allow”—

“But, sir, you will let us do for you, I think,” said Marguerite. “When we may save you, it would be a crime to let you die.”

“Oh!” cried La Mole, “I would rather die than see you, the queen, stain your hands with blood as unworthy as mine. Oh, never, never!”

And he drew back respectfully.

“Your blood, sir,” replied Gillonne, with a smile, “has already stained her majesty’s bed and chamber.”

Marguerite folded her mantle over her cambric peignoir, all bespattered with small red spots. This movement, so expressive of feminine modesty, caused La Mole to remember that he had held in his arms and pressed to his heart this beautiful, beloved queen, and at the recollection a fugitive glow of color came into his pallid cheeks.

“Madame,” stammered La Mole, “can you not leave me to the care of the surgeon?”

“Of a Catholic surgeon, perhaps,” said the queen, with an expression which La Mole understood and which made him shudder. “Do you not know,” continued the queen in a voice and with a smile of incomparable sweetness, “that we daughters of France are trained to know the qualities of herbs and to make balsams? for our duty as women and as queens has always been to soften pain. Therefore we are equal to the best surgeons in the world; so our flatterers say! Has not my reputation in this regard come to your ears? Come, Gillonne, let us to work!”

La Mole again endeavored to resist; he repeated that he would rather die than occasion the queen labor which, though begun in pity, might end in disgust; but this exertion completely exhausted his strength, and falling back, he fainted a second time.

Marguerite, then seizing the poniard which he had dropped, quickly cut the lace of his doublet; while Gillonne, with another blade, ripped open the sleeves.

Next Gillonne, with a cloth dipped in fresh water, stanched the blood which escaped from his shoulder and breast, and Marguerite, with a silver needle with a round point, probed the wounds with all the delicacy and skill that Maître Ambroise Paré could have displayed in such a case.

“A dangerous but not mortal wound, acerrimum humeri vulnus, non autem lethale,” murmured the lovely and learned lady-surgeon; “hand me the salve, Gillonne, and get the lint ready.”

Meantime Gillonne, to whom the queen had just given this new order, had already dried and perfumed the young man’s chest and arms, which were like an antique model, as well as his shoulders, which fell gracefully back; his neck shaded by thick, curling locks, and which seemed rather to belong to a statue of Parian marble than the mangled frame of a dying man.

“Poor young man!” whispered Gillonne, looking not so much at her work as at the object of it.

“Is he not handsome?” said Marguerite, with royal frankness.

“Yes, madame; but it seems to me that instead of leaving him lying there on the floor, we should lift him on this couch against which he is leaning.”

“Yes,” said Marguerite, “you are right.”

And the two women, bending over, uniting their strength, raised La Mole, and laid him on a kind of great sofa in front of the window, which they opened in order to give them fresh air.

This movement aroused La Mole, who drew a long sigh, and opening his eyes, began to experience that indescribable sensation of well-being which comes to a wounded man when on his return to consciousness he finds coolness instead of burning heat, and the perfumes of balsams instead of the nauseating odor of blood.

He muttered some disconnected words, to which Marguerite replied with a smile, placing her finger on her lips.

At this moment several raps on the door were heard.

“Some one knocks at the secret passage,” said Marguerite.

“Who can be coming, madame?” asked Gillonne, in a panic.

“I will go and see who it is,” said Marguerite; “remain here, and do not leave him for a single instant.”

Marguerite went into the chamber, and closing the closet door, opened that of the passage which led to the King’s and queen mother’s apartments.

“Madame de Sauve!” she exclaimed, suddenly drawing back with an expression which resembled hatred, if not terror, so true it is that a woman never forgives another for taking from her even a man whom she does not love — “Madame de Sauve!”

“Yes, your majesty!” she replied, clasping her hands.

“You here, madame?” exclaimed Marguerite, more and more surprised, while at the same time her voice grew more and more imperative.

Charlotte fell on her knees.

“Madame,” she said, “pardon me! I know how guilty I am toward you; but if you knew — the fault is not wholly mine; an express command of the queen mother”—

“Rise!” said Marguerite, “and as I do not suppose you have come with the intention of justifying yourself to me, tell me why you have come at all.”

“I have come, madame,” said Charlotte, still on her knees, and with a look of wild alarm, “I came to ask you if he were not here?”

“Here! who? — of whom are you speaking, madame? for I really do not understand.”

“Of the king!”

“Of the king? What, do you follow him to my apartments? You know very well that he never comes here.”

“Ah, madame!” continued the Baronne de Sauve, without replying to these attacks, or even seeming to comprehend them, “ah, would to Heaven he were here!”

“And why so?”

“Eh, mon Dieu! madame, because they are murdering the Huguenots, and the King of Navarre is the chief of the Huguenots.”

“Oh!” cried Marguerite, seizing Madame de Sauve by the hand, and compelling her to rise; “ah! I had forgotten; besides, I did not think a king could run the same dangers as other men.”

“More, madame — a thousand times more!” cried Charlotte.

“In fact, Madame de Lorraine had warned me; I had begged him not to leave the Louvre. Has he done so?”

“No, no, madame, he is in the Louvre; but if he is not here”—

“He is not here!”

“Oh!” cried Madame de Sauve, with an outburst of agony, “then he is a dead man, for the queen mother has sworn his destruction!”

“His destruction! ah,” said Marguerite, “you terrify me — impossible!”

“Madame,” replied Madame de Sauve, with that energy which passion alone can give, “I tell you that no one knows where the King of Navarre is.”

“And where is the queen mother?”

“The queen mother sent me to find Monsieur de Guise and Monsieur de Tavannes, who were in her oratory, and then dismissed me. Then — pardon me, madame — I went to my room and waited as usual.”

“For my husband, I suppose.”

“He did not come, madame. Then I sought for him everywhere and asked every one for him. One soldier told me he thought he had seen him in the midst of the guards who accompanied him, with his sword drawn in his hand, some time before the massacre began, and the massacre has begun an hour ago.”

“Thanks, madame,” said Marguerite; “and although perhaps the sentiment which impels you is an additional offence toward me — yet, again, I thank you!”

“Oh, forgive me, madame!” she said, “and I will return to my apartments stronger for your pardon, for I dare not follow you, even at a distance.”

Marguerite extended her hand to her.

“I will go to Queen Catharine,” she said. “Return to your room. The King of Navarre is under my protection; I have promised him my alliance and I will be faithful to my promise.”

“But suppose you cannot obtain access to the queen mother, madame?”

“Then I will go to my brother Charles, and I will speak to him.”

“Go, madame, go,” said Charlotte, leaving Marguerite room to pass, “and may God guide your majesty!”

Marguerite darted down the corridor, but when she reached the end of it she turned to make sure that Madame de Sauve was not lingering behind. Madame de Sauve was following her.

The Queen of Navarre saw her go upstairs to her own apartment, and then she herself went toward the queen’s chamber.

All was changed here. Instead of the crowd of eager courtiers, who usually opened their ranks before the queen and respectfully saluted her, Marguerite met only guards with red partisans and garments stained with blood, or gentlemen in torn cloaks — their faces blackened with powder, bearing orders and despatches — some going in, others going out, and all this movement back and forth made a great and terrible confusion in the galleries.

Marguerite, however, went boldly on until she reached the queen mother’s antechamber. But this room was guarded by a double file of soldiers, who allowed only those who had a certain countersign to enter. Marguerite in vain tried to pass this living barrier; several times she saw the door open and shut, and each time she saw Catharine, her youth restored by action, as alert as if she were only twenty years of age, writing, receiving letters, opening them, addressing a word to one, a smile to another; and those on whom she smiled most graciously were those who were the most covered with dust and blood.

Amid this vast tumult which reigned in the Louvre and filled it with frightful clamors, could be heard the rattling of musketry more and more insistently repeated.

“I shall never get to her,” said Marguerite to herself after she had made three ineffectual attempts to pass the halberdiers. “Rather than waste my time here, I must go and find my brother.”

At this moment M. de Guise passed; he had just informed the queen of the murder of the admiral, and was returning to the butchery.

“Oh, Henry!” cried Marguerite, “where is the King of Navarre?”

The duke looked at her with a smile of astonishment, bowed, and without any reply passed out with his guards.

Marguerite ran to a captain who was on the point of leaving the Louvre and was engaged in having his men’s arquebuses loaded.

“The King of Navarre!” she exclaimed; “sir, where is the King of Navarre?”

“I do not know, madame,” replied the captain, “I do not belong to his majesty’s guards.”

“Ah, my dear Réné,” said the queen, recognizing Catharine’s perfumer, “is that you? — you have just left my mother. Do you know what has become of my husband?”

“His majesty the King of Navarre is no friend of mine, madame, you ought to remember that. It is even said,” he added, with a contraction of his features more like a grimace than a smile, “it is even said that he ventures to accuse me of having been the accomplice, with Madame Catharine, in poisoning his mother.”

“No, no!” cried Marguerite, “my good Réné, do not believe that!”

“Oh, it is of little consequence, madame!” said the perfumer; “neither the King of Navarre nor his party is any longer to be feared!”

And he turned his back on Marguerite.

“Ah, Monsieur de Tavannes!” cried Marguerite, “one word, I beseech you!”

Tavannes, who was going by, stopped.

“Where is Henry of Navarre?”

“Faith,” he replied, in a loud voice, “I believe he is somewhere in the city with the Messieurs d’Alençon and de Condé.”

And then he added, in a tone so low that the queen alone could hear:

“Your majesty, if you would see him — to be in whose place I would give my life — go to the king’s armory.”

“Thanks, Tavannes, thanks!” said Marguerite, who, of all that Tavannes had said, had heard only the chief direction; “thank you, I will go there.”

And she went on her way, murmuring:

“Oh, after all I promised him — after the way in which he behaved to me when that ingrate, Henry de Guise, was concealed in the closet — I cannot let him perish!”

And she knocked at the door of the King’s apartments; but they were encompassed within by two companies of guards.

“No one is admitted to the King,” said the officer, coming forward.

“But I”— said Marguerite.

“The order is general.”

“I, the Queen of Navarre! — I, his sister!”

“My orders admit of no exception, madame; I pray you to pardon me.”

And the officer closed the door.

“Oh, he is lost!” exclaimed Marguerite, alarmed at the sight of all those sinister faces, which even if they did not breathe vengeance, expressed sternness of purpose. “Yes, yes! I comprehend all. I have been used as a bait. I am the snare which has entrapped the Huguenots; but I will enter, if I am killed in the attempt!”

And Marguerite ran like a mad creature through the corridors and galleries, when suddenly, as she passed by a small door, she heard a sweet song, almost melancholy, so monotonous it was. It was a Calvinistic psalm, sung by a trembling voice in the next room.

“My brother the king’s nurse — the good Madelon — she is there!” exclaimed Marguerite. “God of the Christians, aid me now!”

And, full of hope, Marguerite knocked at the little door.

Soon after the counsel which Marguerite had conveyed to him, after his conversation with Réné, and after leaving the queen mother’s chamber, in spite of the efforts of the poor little Phoebe — who like a good genius tried to detain him — Henry of Navarre had met several Catholic gentlemen, who, under a pretext of doing him honor, had escorted him to his apartments, where a score of Huguenots awaited him, who had rallied round the young prince, and, having once rallied, would not leave him — so strongly, for some hours, had the presentiment of that fatal night weighed on the Louvre. They had remained there, without any one attempting to disturb them. At last, at the first stroke of the bell of Saint–Germain l’Auxerrois, which resounded through all hearts like a funeral knell, Tavannes entered, and, in the midst of a death-like silence, announced that King Charles IX. desired to speak to Henry.

It was useless to attempt resistance, and no one thought of it. They heard the ceilings, galleries, and corridors creaking beneath the feet of the assembled soldiers, who were in the court-yards, as well as in the apartments, to the number of two thousand. Henry, after having taken leave of his friends, whom he was never again to see, followed Tavannes, who led him to a small gallery next the King’s apartments, where he left him alone, unarmed, and a prey to mistrust.

The King of Navarre counted here alone, minute by minute, two mortal hours; listening, with increasing alarm, to the sound of the tocsin and the discharge of fire-arms; seeing through a small window, by the light of the flames and flambeaux, the refugees and their assassins pass; understanding nothing of these shrieks of murder, these cries of distress — not even suspecting, in spite of his knowledge of Charles IX., the queen mother, and the Duc de Guise, the horrible drama at this moment enacting.

Henry had not physical courage, but he had better than that — he had moral fortitude. Though he feared danger, yet he smiled at it and faced it; but it was danger in the field of battle — danger in the open air — danger in the eyes of all, and attended by the noisy harmony of trumpets and the loud and vibrating beat of drums; but now he was weaponless, alone, locked in, shut up in a semi-darkness where he could scarcely see the enemy that might glide toward him, and the weapon that might be raised to strike him.

These two hours were, perhaps, the most agonizing of his life.

In the hottest of the tumult, and as Henry was beginning to understand that, in all probability, this was some organized massacre, a captain came to him, and conducted the prince along a corridor to the King’s rooms. As they approached, the door opened and closed behind them as if by magic. The captain then led Henry to the King, who was in his armory.

When they entered, the King was seated in a great arm-chair, his two hands placed on the two arms of the seat, and his head falling on his chest. At the noise made by their entrance Charles looked up, and Henry observed the perspiration dropping from his brow like large beads.

“Good evening, Harry,” said the young King, roughly. “La Chastre, leave us.”

The captain obeyed.

A gloomy silence ensued. Henry looked around him with uneasiness, and saw that he was alone with the King.

Charles IX. suddenly arose.

Par la mordieu!” said he, passing his hands through his light brown hair, and wiping his brow at the same time, “you are glad to be with me, are you not, Harry?”

“Certainly, sire,” replied the King of Navarre, “I am always happy to be with your Majesty.”

“Happier than if you were down there, eh?” continued Charles, following his own thoughts rather than replying to Henry’s compliment.

“I do not understand, sire,” replied Henry.

“Look out, then, and you will soon understand.”

And with a quick movement Charles stepped or rather sprang to the window, and drawing with him his brother-inlaw, who became more and more terror-stricken, he pointed to him the horrible outlines of the assassins, who, on the deck of a boat, were cutting the throats or drowning the victims brought them at every moment.

“In the name of Heaven,” cried Henry; “what is going on to-night?”

“To-night, sir,” replied Charles IX., “they are ridding me of all the Huguenots. Look yonder, over the Hôtel de Bourbon, at the smoke and flames: they are the smoke and flames of the admiral’s house, which is on fire. Do you see that body, which these good Catholics are drawing on a torn mattress? It is the corpse of the admiral’s son-inlaw — the carcass of your friend, Téligny.”

“What means this?” cried the King of Navarre, seeking vainly by his side for the hilt of his dagger, and trembling equally with shame and anger; for he felt that he was at the same time laughed at and threatened.

“It means,” cried Charles IX., becoming suddenly furious, and turning frightfully pale, “it means that I will no longer have any Huguenots about me. Do you hear me, Henry? — Am I King? Am I master?”

“But, your Majesty”—

“My Majesty kills and massacres at this moment all that is not Catholic; it is my pleasure. Are you a Catholic?” exclaimed Charles, whose anger was rising higher and higher, like an awful tide.

“Sire,” replied Henry, “do you remember your own words, ‘What matters the religion of those who serve me well’?”

“Ha! ha! ha!” cried Charles, bursting into a ferocious laugh; “you ask me if I remember my words, Henry! ‘Verba volant,’ as my sister Margot says; and had not all those”— and he pointed to the city with his finger —“served me well, also? Were they not brave in battle, wise in council, deeply devoted? They were all useful subjects — but they were Huguenots, and I want none but Catholics.”

Henry remained silent.

“Do you understand me now, Harry?” asked Charles.

“I understand, sire.”

“Well?”

“Well, sire, I do not see why the King of Navarre should not do what so many gentlemen and poor folk have done. For if they all die, poor unfortunates, it is because the same terms have been proposed to them which your Majesty proposes to me, and they have refused, as I refuse.”

Charles seized the young prince’s arm, and fixed on him a look the vacancy of which suddenly changed into a fierce and savage scowl.

“What!” he said, “do you believe that I have taken the trouble to offer the mass to those whose throats we are cutting yonder?”

“Sire,” said Henry, disengaging his arm, “will you not die in the religion of your fathers?”

“Yes, par la mordieu! and you?”

“Well, sire, I will do the same!” replied Henry.

Charles uttered a roar of rage and, with trembling hand, seized his arquebuse, which lay on the table.

Henry, who stood leaning against the tapestry, with the perspiration on his brow, and nevertheless, owing to his presence of mind, calm to all appearance, followed every movement of the terrible king with the greedy stupefaction of a bird fascinated by a serpent.

Charles cocked his arquebuse, and stamping with blind rage cried, as he dazzled Henry’s eyes with the polished barrel of the deadly gun:

“Will you accept the mass?”

Henry remained mute.

Charles IX. shook the vaults of the Louvre with the most terrible oath that ever issued from the lips of man, and grew even more livid than before.

“Death, mass, or the Bastille!” he cried, taking aim at the King of Navarre.

“Oh, sire!” exclaimed Henry, “will you kill me — me, your brother?”

Henry thus, by his incomparable cleverness, which was one of the strongest faculties of his organization, evaded the answer which Charles IX. expected, for undoubtedly had his reply been in the negative Henry had been a dead man.

As immediately after the climax of rage, reaction begins, Charles IX. did not repeat the question he had addressed to the Prince of Navarre; and after a moment’s hesitation, during which he uttered a hoarse kind of growl, he went back to the open window, and aimed at a man who was running along the quay in front.

“I must kill some one!” cried Charles IX., ghastly as a corpse, his eyes suffused with blood; and firing as he spoke, he struck the man who was running.

Henry uttered a groan.

Then, animated by a frightful ardor, Charles loaded and fired his arquebuse without cessation, uttering cries of joy every time his aim was successful.

“It is all over with me!” said the King of Navarre to himself; “when he sees no one else to kill, he will kill me!”

“Well,” said a voice behind the princes, suddenly, “is it done?”

It was Catharine de Médicis, who had entered unobserved just as the King was firing his last shot.

“No, thousand thunders of hell!” said the King, throwing his arquebuse across the room. “No, the obstinate blockhead — he will not consent!”

Catharine made no reply. She turned her eyes slowly where Henry stood as motionless as one of the figures of the tapestry against which he was leaning. She then gave a glance at the King, which seemed to say:

“Then why he is alive?”

“He is alive, he is alive!” murmured Charles IX., who perfectly understood the glance, and replied to it without hesitation — “he is alive — because he is my relative.”

Catharine smiled.

Henry saw the smile, and realized that his struggle was to be with Catharine.

“Madame,” he said to her, “the whole thing comes from you, I see very well, and my brother-inlaw Charles is not to blame. You laid the plan for drawing me into a snare. You made your daughter the bait which was to destroy us all. You separated me from my wife that she might not see me killed before her eyes”—

“Yes, but that shall not be!” cried another voice, breathless and impassioned, which Henry instantly recognized and which made Charles start with surprise and Catharine with rage.

“Marguerite!” exclaimed Henry.

“Margot!” said Charles IX.

“My daughter!” muttered Catharine.

“Sire,” said Marguerite to Henry, “your last words were an accusation against me, and you were both right and wrong — right, for I am the means by which they attempted to destroy you; wrong, for I did not know that you were going to your destruction. I, sire, owe my own life to chance — to my mother’s forgetfulness, perhaps; but as soon as I learned your danger I remembered my duty, and a wife’s duty is to share her husband’s fortunes. If you are exiled, sire, I will follow you into exile; if you are put into prison I will be your fellow-captive; if they kill you, I will also die.”

And she offered her husband her hand, which he eagerly seized, if not with love, at least with gratitude.

“Oh, my poor Margot!” said Charles, “you had much better bid him become a Catholic!”

“Sire,” replied Marguerite, with that lofty dignity which was so natural to her, “for your own sake do not ask any prince of your house to commit a cowardly act.”

Catharine darted a significant glance at Charles.

“Brother,” cried Marguerite, who equally well with Charles IX. understood Catharine’s ominous pantomime, “my brother, remember! you made him my husband!”

Charles IX., at bay between Catharine’s commanding eyes and Marguerite’s supplicating look, as if between the two opposing principles of good and evil, stood for an instant undecided; at last Ormazd won the day.

“In truth,” said he, whispering in Catharine’s ear, “Margot is right, and Harry is my brother-inlaw.”

“Yes,” replied Catharine in a similar whisper in her son’s ear, “yes — but supposing he were not?”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37