Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 15.

What Woman Wills, God Wills.

Marguerite was not mistaken: the wrath distilled in the depths of Catharine’s heart at sight of this comedy, the intrigue of which she followed without being in any way able to change its denouement, required a victim. So instead of going directly to her own room the queen mother proceeded to that of her lady in waiting.

Madame de Sauve was in expectation of two visits — one she hoped to receive from Henry, and the other she feared was in store for her from the queen mother. As she lay in her bed only partially undressed, while Dariole kept watch in the antechamber, she heard a key turn in the lock, and then slowly approaching footsteps which would have seemed heavy if they had not been deadened by thick rugs. She did not recognize Henry’s light, eager step; she suspected that Dariole was prevented from coming to warn her, and so leaning on her elbow she waited with eye and ear alert. The portière was lifted and the trembling young woman saw Catharine de Médicis appear.

Catharine seemed calm; but Madame de Sauve, accustomed for two years to study her, well knew what dark designs, and possibly cruel vengeance, might be concealed beneath that apparent calm.

At sight of Catharine, Madame de Sauve was about to spring from her bed, but Catharine signed to her to stay where she was; and poor Charlotte was fixed to the spot, inwardly endeavoring to collect all the forces of her soul to endure the storm which was silently gathering.

“Did you convey the key to the King of Navarre?” inquired Catharine, without the tone of her voice betraying any change; and yet as she spoke her lips grew paler and paler.

“I did, madame,” answered Charlotte, in a voice which she vainly tried to make as firm and assured as Catherine’s was.

“And have you seen him?”

“Who?” asked Madame de Sauve.

“The King of Navarre.”

“No, madame; but I am expecting him, and when I heard the key turn in the lock, I firmly believed it was he.”

At this answer, which indicated either perfect confidence or deep dissimulation on Madame de Sauve’s part, Catharine could not repress a slight shiver. She clinched her short plump hand.

“And yet you knew perfectly well,” said she with her evil smile, “you knew perfectly well, Carlotta, that the King of Navarre would not come to-night.”

“I, madame? I knew that?” exclaimed Charlotte, with a tone of surprise perfectly well assumed.

“Yes, you knew it!”

“If he does not come, he must be dead!” replied the young woman, shuddering at the mere supposition.

What gave Charlotte the courage to lie so was the certainty that she would suffer from a terrible vengeance if her little treason should be discovered.

“But did you not write to the king, Carlotta mia?” inquired Catharine, with the same cruel and silent laugh.

“No, madame,” answered Charlotte, with well-assumed naïveté, “I cannot recollect receiving your majesty’s commands to do so.”

A short silence followed, during which Catharine continued to gaze on Madame de Sauve as the serpent looks at the bird it wishes to fascinate.

“You think you are pretty,” said Catharine, “you think you are clever, do you not?”

“No, madame,” answered Charlotte; “I only know that sometimes your majesty has been graciously pleased to commend both my personal attractions and address.”

“Well, then,” said Catharine, growing eager and animated, “you were mistaken if you think so, and I lied when I told you so; you are a simpleton and hideous compared to my daughter Margot.”

“Oh, madame,” replied Charlotte, “that is a fact I will not even try to deny — least of all in your presence.”

“So, then, the King of Navarre prefers my daughter to you; a circumstance, I presume, not to your wishes, and certainly not what we agreed should be the case.”

“Alas, madame,” cried Charlotte, bursting into a torrent of tears which now flowed from no feigned source, “if it be so, I can but say I am very unfortunate!”

“It is so,” said Catharine, darting the two-fold keenness of her eyes like a double poniard into Madame de Sauve’s heart.

“But who can make you believe that?” asked Charlotte.

“Go down to the Queen of Navarre’s pazza, and you will find your lover there!”

“Oh!” exclaimed Madame de Sauve.

Catharine shrugged her shoulders.

“Are you jealous, pray?” asked the queen mother.

“I?” exclaimed Madame de Sauve, recalling her fast-failing strength.

“Yes, you! I should like to see a Frenchwoman’s jealousy.”

“But,” said Madame de Sauve, “how should your majesty expect me to be jealous except out of vanity? I love the King of Navarre only as far as your majesty’s service requires it.”

Catharine gazed at her for a moment with dreamy eyes.

“What you tell me may on the whole be true,” she murmured.

“Your majesty reads my heart.”

“And your heart is wholly devoted to me?”

“Command me, madame, and you shall judge for yourself.”

“Well, then, Carlotta, since you are ready to sacrifice yourself in my service, you must still continue for my sake to be in love with the King of Navarre and, above all, to be very jealous — jealous as an Italian woman.”

“But, madame,” asked Charlotte, “how does an Italian woman show her jealousy?”

“I will tell you,” replied Catharine, and after nodding her head two or three times she left the room as deliberately and noiselessly as she had come in.

Charlotte, confused by the keen look of those eyes dilated like a cat’s or a panther’s without thereby losing anything of their inscrutability, allowed her to go without uttering a single word, without even letting her breathing be heard, and she did not even take a respiration until she heard the door close behind her and Dariole came to say that the terrible apparition had departed.

“Dariole,” said she, “draw up an armchair close to my bed and spend the night in it. I beg you to do so, for I should not dare to stay alone.”

Dariole obeyed; but in spite of the company of her faithful attendant, who stayed near her, in spite of the light from the lamp which she commanded to be left burning for the sake of greater tranquillity, Madame de Sauve also did not fall asleep till daylight, so insistently rang in her ears the metallic accent of Catharine’s voice.

Though Marguerite had not fallen asleep till daybreak she awoke at the first blast of the trumpets, at the first barking of the dogs. She instantly arose and began to put on a costume so negligent that it could not fail to attract attention. Then she summoned her women, and had the gentlemen ordinarily in attendance on the King of Navarre shown into her antechamber, and finally opening the door which shut Henry and De la Mole into the same room, she gave the count an affectionate glance and addressing her husband she said:

“Come, sire, it is not sufficient to have made madame my mother believe in what is not; it still remains for you to convince your whole court that a perfect understanding exists between us. But make yourself quite easy,” added she, laughing, “and remember my words, rendered almost solemn by the circumstances. To-day will be the last time that I shall put your majesty to such a cruel test.”

The King of Navarre smiled and ordered his gentlemen to be admitted.

Just as they were bowing to him he pretended suddenly to recollect having left his mantle on the queen’s bed and begged their excuse for receiving them in such a way; then, taking his mantle from the hands of Marguerite, who stood blushing by his side, he clasped it on his shoulder. Next, turning to his gentlemen, he inquired what news there was in the city and at court.

Marguerite was engaged in watching out of the corner of her eye the imperceptible signs of astonishment betrayed by the gentlemen at detecting this newly revealed intimacy between the king and queen of Navarre, when an usher entered, followed by three or four gentlemen, and announced the Duc d’Alençon.

To bring him there Gillonne had only to tell him that the king had spent the night in the queen’s room.

François rushed in so precipitately that he almost upset those who preceded him. His first glance was for Henry; his next was for Marguerite.

Henry replied with a courteous bow; Marguerite composed her features so that they expressed the utmost serenity.

Then the duke cast a vague but scrutinizing look around the whole room: he saw the two pillows placed at the head of the bed, the derangement of its tapestried coverings, and the king’s hat thrown on a chair.

He turned pale, but quickly recovering himself, he said:

“Does my royal brother Henry join this morning with the King in his game of tennis?”

“Does his Majesty do me the honor to select me as his partner?” inquired Henry, “or is it only a little attention on your part, my brother-inlaw?”

“His Majesty has not so said, certainly,” replied the duke, somewhat embarrassed; “but don’t you generally play with him?”

Henry smiled, for so many and such serious events had occurred since he last played with the King that he would not have been astonished to learn that the King had changed his habitual companions at the game.

“I shall go there,” said Henry, with a smile.

“Come,” cried the duke.

“Are you going away?” inquired Marguerite.

“Yes, sister!”

“Are you in great haste?”

“In great haste.”

“Might I venture to detain you for a few minutes?”

Such a request was so unusual coming from Marguerite that her brother looked at her while her color came and went.

“What can she be going to say to him?” thought Henry, no less surprised than the duke himself.

Marguerite, as if she had guessed her husband’s thought, turned toward him.

“Sire,” said she, with a charming smile, “you may go back to his majesty if it seem good to you, for the secret which I am going to reveal to my brother is already known to you, for the reason that the request which I made you yesterday in regard to this secret was as good as refused by your majesty. I should not wish, therefore,” continued Marguerite, “to weary your majesty a second time by expressing in your presence a wish which seemed to be disagreeable.”

“What do you mean?” asked François, looking at both of them with astonishment.

“Aha!” exclaimed Henry, flushing, with indignation, “I know what you mean, madame. In truth, I regret that I am not free. But if I cannot offer Monsieur de la Mole such hospitality as would be equivalent to an assurance, I cannot do less than to recommend to my brother D’Alençon the person in whom you feel such a lively interest. Perhaps,” he added, in order to give still more emphasis to the words italicized, “perhaps my brother will discover some way whereby you will be permitted to keep Monsieur de la Mole here near you — that would be better than anything else, would it not, madame?”

“Come, come!” said Marguerite to herself, “the two together will do what neither of them would do individually.”

And she opened the closet door and invited the wounded young man to come forth, saying to Henry as she did so:

“Your majesty must now explain to my brother why we are interested in Monsieur de la Mole.”

Henry, caught in the snare, briefly related to M. d’Alençon, half a Protestant for the sake of opposition, as he himself was partly a Catholic from prudence, the arrival of Monsieur de la Mole at Paris, and how the young man had been severely wounded while bringing to him a letter from M. d’Auriac.

When the duke turned round, La Mole had come out from the closet and was standing before him.

François, at the sight of him, so handsome, so pale, and consequently doubly captivating by reason of his good looks and his pallor, felt a new sense of distrust spring up in the depths of his soul. Marguerite held him both through jealousy and through pride.

“Brother,” said Marguerite, “I will engage that this young gentleman will be useful to whoever may employ him. Should you accept his services, he will obtain a powerful protector, and you, a devoted servitor. In such times as the present, brother,” continued she, “we cannot be too well surrounded by devoted friends; more especially,” added she, lowering her voice so as to be heard by no one but the duke, “when one is ambitious, and has the misfortune to be only third in the succession to the throne.”

Then she put her finger on her lip, to intimate to François that in spite of the initiation she still kept secret an important part of her idea.

“Perhaps,” she added, “you may differ from Henry, in considering it not befitting that this young gentleman should remain so immediately in the vicinity of my apartments.”

“Sister,” replied François, eagerly, “if it meet your wishes, Monsieur de la Mole shall, in half an hour, be installed in my quarters, where, I think, he can have no cause to fear any danger. Let him love me and I will love him.”

François was untruthful, for already in the very depths of his heart he detested La Mole.

“Well, well! So then I was not mistaken,” said Marguerite to herself, seeing the King of Navarre’s scowling face. “Ah, I see that to lead you two, one must lead the other.”

Then finishing her thought:

“There! ‘then you are doing well, Marguerite,’ Henriette would say.”

In fact, half an hour later La Mole, having been solemnly catechised by Marguerite, kissed the hem of her gown and with an agility remarkable in a wounded man was mounting the stairs that led to the Duc d’Alençon’s quarters.

Two or three days passed, during which the excellent understanding between Henry and his wife seemed to grow more and more firmly established.

Henry had obtained permission not to make a public renunciation of his religion; but he had formally recanted in the presence of the king’s confessor, and every morning he listened to the mass performed at the Louvre. At night he made a show of going to his wife’s rooms, entered by the principal door, talked a few minutes with her, and then took his departure by the small secret door, and went up to Madame de Sauve, who had duly informed him of the queen mother’s visit as well as the unquestionable danger which threatened him. Warned on both sides, Henry redoubled his watchfulness against the queen mother and felt all distrust of her because little by little her face began to unbend, and one morning Henry detected a friendly smile on her bloodless lips. That day he had the greatest difficulty to bring himself to eat anything else than eggs cooked by himself or to drink anything else than water which his own eyes had seen dipped up from the Seine.

The massacres were still going on, but nevertheless were diminishing in violence. There had been such a wholesale butchery of the Huguenots that their number was greatly reduced. The larger part were dead; many had fled; a few had remained in concealment. Occasionally a great outcry arose in one district or another; it meant that one of these was discovered. Then the execution was either private or public according as the victim was driven into a corner or could escape. In such circumstances it furnished great amusement for the neighborhood where the affair took place; for instead of growing calmer as their enemies were annihilated, the Catholics grew more and more ferocious; the fewer the remaining victims, the more bloodthirsty they seemed in their persecution of the rest.

Charles IX. had taken great pleasure in hunting the Huguenots, and when he could no longer continue the chase himself he took delight in the noise of others hunting them.

One day, returning from playing at mall, which with tennis and hunting were his favorite amusements, he went to his mother’s apartments in high spirits, followed by his usual train of courtiers.

“Mother,” he said, embracing the Florentine, who, observing his joy, was already trying to detect its cause; “mother, good news! Mort de tous les diables! Do you know that the admiral’s illustrious carcass which it was said was lost has been found?”

“Aha!” said Catharine.

“Oh, heavens! yes. You thought as I did, mother, the dogs had eaten a wedding dinner off him, but it was not so. My people, my dear people, my good people, had a clever idea and have hung the admiral up at the gibbet of Montfaucon.

Du haut en bas Gaspard on a jété,

Et puis de bas en haut on l’a monté.”3

3 From up above to down below Gaspard was flung,

And then from down below to high above was hung.

“Well!” said Catharine.

“Well, good mother,” replied Charles IX., “I have a strong desire to see him again, dear old man, now I know he is really dead. It is very fine weather and everything seems to be blooming today. The air is full of life and perfume, and I feel better than I ever did. If you like, mother, we will get on horseback and go to Montfaucon.”

“Willingly, my son,” said Catharine, “if I had not made an appointment which I cannot defer; and beside, to pay a visit to a man of such importance as the admiral, we should invite the whole court. It will be an occasion for observers to make curious observations. We shall see who comes and who stays away.”

“Faith, you are right, mother, we will put it off till tomorrow; that will be better, so send out your invitations and I will send mine; or rather let us not invite any one. We will only say we are going, and then every one will be free. Good-by, mother! I am going to play on the horn.”

“You will exhaust yourself, Charles, as Ambroise Paré is always telling you, and he is right. It is too severe an exercise for you.”

“Bah! bah! bah!” said Charles; “I wish I were sure nothing else would be the cause of my death. I should then bury every one here, including Harry, who will one day succeed us all, as Nostradamus prophesies.”

Catharine frowned.

“My son,” she said, “mistrust especially all things that appear impossible, and meanwhile take care of yourself.”

“Only two or three blasts to rejoice my dogs, poor things; they are wearied to death with doing nothing. I ought to have let them loose on the Huguenots; that would have done them good!”

And Charles IX. left his mother’s room, went into his armory, took down a horn, and played on it with a vigor that would have done honor to Roland himself. It was difficult to understand how so weak a frame and such pale lips could blow a blast so powerful.

Catharine, in truth, was awaiting some one as she had told her son. A moment after he had left her, one of her women came and spoke to her in a low voice. The queen smiled, rose, and saluting the persons who formed her court, followed the messenger.

Réné the Florentine, the man to whom on the eve of Saint Bartholomew the King of Navarre had given such a diplomatic reception, had just entered her oratory.

“Ah, here you are, Réné,” said Catharine, “I was impatiently waiting for you.”

Réné bowed.

“Did you receive the note I wrote you yesterday?”

“I had that honor.”

“Did you make another trial, as I asked you to do, of the horoscope cast by Ruggieri, and agreeing so well with the prophecy of Nostradamus, which says that all my three sons shall reign? For several days past, affairs have decidedly changed, Réné, and it has occurred to me that possibly fate has become less threatening.”

“Madame,” replied Réné, shaking his head, “your majesty knows well that affairs do not change fate; on the contrary, fate controls affairs.”

“Still, you have tried the sacrifice again, have you not?”

“Yes, madame,” replied Réné; “for it is my duty to obey you in all things.”

“Well — and the result?”

“Still the same, madame.”

“What, the black lamb uttered its three cries?”

“Just the same as before, madame.”

“The sign of three cruel deaths in my family,” murmured Catharine.

“Alas!” said Réné.

“What then?”

“Then, madame, there was in its entrails that strange displacement of the liver which we had already observed in the first two — it was wrong side up!”

“A change of dynasty! Still — still — still the same!” muttered Catharine; “yet we must fight against this, Réné,” she added.

Réné shook his head.

“I have told your majesty,” he said, “that fate rules.”

“Is that your opinion?” asked Catharine.

“Yes, madame.”

“Do you remember Jeanne d’Albret’s horoscope?”

“Yes, madame.”

“Repeat it to me, I have quite forgotten it.”

Vives honorata,” said Réné, “morieris reformidata, regina amplificabere.”

“That means, I believe,” said Catharine, “Thou shalt live honored— and she lacked common necessaries, poor thing! Thou shalt die feared— and we laughed at her. Thou shalt be greater than thou hast been as a queen— and she is dead, and sleeps in a tomb on which we have not even engraved her name.”

“Madame, your majesty does not translate the vives honorata rightly. The Queen of Navarre lived honored; for all her life she enjoyed the love of her children, the respect of her partisans; respect and love all the more sincere in that she was poor.”

“Yes,” said Catharine, “I grant you the vives honorata; but morieris reformidata: how will you explain that?”

“Nothing more easy: Thou shalt die feared.”

“Well — did she die feared?”

“So much so that she would not have died had not your majesty feared her. Then —As a queen thou shalt be greater; or, Thou shalt be greater than thou hast been as a queen. This is equally true, madame; for in exchange for a terrestrial crown she has doubtless, as a queen and martyr, a celestial crown; and, besides, who knows what the future may reserve for her posterity?”

Catharine was excessively superstitious; she was even more alarmed at Réné‘s coolness than at the steadfastness of the auguries, and as in her case any scrape was a chance for her boldly to master the situation, she said suddenly to him, without any other transition than the working of her own thoughts:

“Are any perfumes come from Italy?”

“Yes, madame.”

“Send me a boxful.”

“Of which?”

“Of the last, of those”—

Catharine stopped.

“Of those the Queen of Navarre was so fond of?” asked Réné.

“Exactly.”

“I need not prepare them, for your majesty is now as skilful at them as I am.”

“You think so?” said Catharine. “They certainly succeed.”

“Has your majesty anything more to say to me?” asked the perfumer.

“Nothing,” replied Catharine, thoughtfully; “at least I think not, only if there is any change in the sacrifices, let me know it in time. By the way, let us leave the lambs, and try the hens.”

“Alas, madame, I fear that in changing the victim we shall not change the presages.”

“Do as I tell you.”

The perfumer bowed and left the apartment.

Catharine mused for a short time, then rose and returning to her bedchamber, where her women awaited her, announced the pilgrimage to Montfaucon for the morrow.

The news of this pleasure party caused great excitement in the palace and great confusion in the city: the ladies prepared their most elegant toilets; the gentlemen, their finest arms and steeds; the tradesmen closed their shops, and the populace killed a few straggling Huguenots, in order to furnish company for the dead admiral.

There was a tremendous hubbub all the evening and during a good part of the night.

La Mole had spent a miserable day, and this miserable day had followed three or four others equally miserable. Monsieur d’Alençon, to please his sister, had installed him in his apartments, but had not seen him since. He felt himself like a poor deserted child, deprived of the tender care, the soothing attention of two women, the recollection of one of whom occupied him perpetually. He had heard of her through the surgeon Ambroise Paré, whom she had sent to him, but what he heard from a man of fifty who was ignorant or pretended to be ignorant of the interest felt by La Mole in everything appertaining to Marguerite was very fragmentary and insufficient. Gillonne, indeed, had come once, of her own accord, be it understood, to ask after him, and the visit was to him like a sunbeam darting into a dungeon, and La Mole had remained dazzled by it, and had expected a second visit, and yet two days passed and she had not appeared.

As soon, therefore, as the convalescent heard of this magnificent reunion of the whole court for the following day he sent to ask Monsieur d’Alençon the favor of accompanying it.

The duke did not even inquire whether La Mole was able to bear the fatigue, but merely answered:

“Capital! Let him have one of my horses.”

That was all La Mole wanted. Maître Ambroise Paré came as usual to dress his wounds, and La Mole explained to him the necessity he was under of mounting on horseback, and begged him to put on the bandages with double care.

The two wounds, both that on the breast and that on the shoulder, were closed; the one on the shoulder only pained him. Both were rose-red in color, which showed that they were in a fair way of healing. Maître Ambroise Paré covered them with gummed taffetas, a remedy greatly in vogue then, and promised La Mole that if he did not exert himself too much everything would go well.

La Mole was at the height of joy. Save for a certain weakness caused by loss of blood and a slight giddiness attributable to the same cause, he felt as well as could be. Besides, doubtless Marguerite would be in the party; he should see Marguerite again. And when he remembered what benefit he had received from the sight of Gillonne, he had no doubt that her mistress would have a still more efficacious influence upon him.

So La Mole spent a part of the money which he had received when he went away from his family in the purchase of the most beautiful white satin doublet and the finest embroidered mantle that could be furnished by a fashionable tailor. The same tailor procured for him a pair of those perfumed boots such as were worn at that period. The whole outfit was brought to him in the morning only a half hour later than the time at which La Mole had ordered it, so that he had not much fault to find.

He dressed himself quickly, looked in the glass, and found that he was suitably attired, arranged, and perfumed. Then by walking up and down the room several times, he assured himself that though it caused him some sharp pangs, still the happiness which he felt in his heart would render these physical inconveniences of no account. A cherry-colored mantle of his own design, and cut rather longer than they were worn then, proved to be very becoming to him.

While he was thus engaged in the Louvre, another scene, of a similar kind, was going on at the Hôtel de Guise. A tall gentleman, with red hair, was examining, before a glass, a reddish mark which went across his face very disagreeably; he combed and perfumed his mustache, and while he was perfuming it, he kept spreading over that unfortunate mark which, in spite of all the cosmetics then in use, persisted in reappearing, a three-fold layer of white and red; but as the application was insufficient an idea came to him: a hot sun, an August sun, was flashing its rays into the court-yard; he made his way down there, took his hat in his hand, and with his nose in the air and his eyes closed, he walked up and down for ten minutes, fully exposed to the devouring flame which fell from heaven like a torrent. At the end of these ten minutes, owing to the unexampled ardor of the sun, the gentleman’s face had acquired such a brilliant color that the red streak was now no more in harmony with the rest than it had been, but in comparison seemed yellow.

Nevertheless, the gentleman did not seem much dissatisfied with this rainbow effect which he did his best to bring into accord with the rest of his face by spreading a layer of vermilion over it, after which he put on a magnificent suit which a tailor had brought to his room without any commands from him. Thus attired, scented, and armed from head to foot, he again went down into the court-yard and began to pat a large black horse whose beauty would have been matchless but for a small cut, like his own, made by a reiter’s sabre in one of the last civil conflicts.

Yet, enchanted with the good steed as he was with himself, the gentleman, whom no doubt our readers have easily recognized, was on his back a quarter of an hour before any of the others and making the court-yard of the Hôtel de Guise resound with the whinnying of the charger accompanied by exclamations of mordi, pronounced in every variety of accent according as he compelled the horse to submit to this authority. At the end of a moment the horse completely subdued, recognized by his obedience and subjection his master’s legitimate control, but the victory had not been obtained without noise, and this noise, which was perhaps the very thing our gentleman reckoned upon, this noise had attracted to the windows a lady whom our queller of horses saluted respectfully, and who smiled at him in the most agreeable manner.

Five minutes later Madame de Nevers summoned her steward.

“Sir,” said she, “has Monsieur le Comte Annibal de Coconnas been furnished a suitable breakfast?”

“Yes, madame,” replied the steward, “he ate this morning with a better appetite than usual.”

“Very well, sir,” said the duchess.

Then addressing her first gentleman in waiting:

“Monsieur d’Arguzon,” she said, “let us set out for the Louvre, and keep an eye, I beg, on Monsieur le Comte Annibal de Coconnas, for he is wounded, and consequently still weak; and I would not for all the world any accident should happen to him. That would make the Huguenots laugh, for they owe him a spite since the blessed night of Saint Bartholomew.”

And Madame de Nevers, mounting her horse, went joyfully towards the Louvre, which was the general rendezvous.

It was two o’clock in the afternoon as a file of cavaliers, overflowing with gold, jewels, and magnificent garments, appeared in the Rue Saint Denis, entering by the corner of the Cemetery of the Innocents and stretching itself out in the sunlight between the two rows of gloomy looking houses like an immense reptile with variegated rings.

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