Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 17.

Maître Ambroise Paré’s Confrère.

The tumbril in which Coconnas and La Mole were laid started back toward Paris, following in the shadow the guiding group. It stopped at the Louvre, and the driver was amply rewarded. The wounded men were carried to the Duc d’Alençon’s quarters, and Maître Ambroise Paré was sent for.

When he arrived, neither of the two men had recovered consciousness.

La Mole was the least hurt of the two. The sword had struck him below the right armpit, but without touching any vital parts. Coconnas was run through the lungs, and the air that escaped from his wound made the flame of a candle waver.

Ambroise Paré would not answer for Coconnas.

Madame de Nevers was in despair. Relying on Coconnas’s strength, courage, and skill, she had prevented Marguerite from interfering with the duel. She would have had Coconnas taken to the Hôtel de Guise and gladly bestowed on him a second time the care which she had already lavished on his comfort, but her husband was likely to arrive from Rome at any moment and find fault with the introduction of a strange man in the domestic establishment.

To hide the cause of the wounds, Marguerite had had the two young men brought to her brother’s rooms, where one of them, to be sure, had already been installed, by saying that they were two gentlemen who had been thrown from their horses during the excursion, but the truth was divulged by the captain, who, having witnessed the duel, could not help expressing his admiration, and it was soon known at court that two new raffinés6 had burst into sudden fame. Attended by the same surgeon, who divided his attentions between them, the two wounded men passed through the different phases of convalescence arising from the greater or less severity of their wounds. La Mole, who was less severely wounded of the two, was the first to recover consciousness. A terrible fever had taken possession of Coconnas and his return to life was attended by all the symptoms of the most horrible delirium.

6 Raffinés or raffiné d’honneur was a term applied in the 16th century to men sensitively punctilious and ready to draw their swords at the slightest provocation. — N.H.D.

Though La Mole was confined in the same room with Coconnas, he had not, when he came to himself, seen his companion, or if he saw him, he betrayed no sign that he saw him. Coconnas, on the contrary, as soon as he opened his eyes, fastened them on La Mole with an expression which proved that the blood he had lost had not modified the passions of his fiery temperament.

Coconnas thought he was dreaming, and that in this dream he saw the enemy he imagined he had twice slain, only the dream was unduly prolonged. After having observed La Mole laid, like himself, on a couch, and his wounds dressed by the surgeon, he saw him rise up in bed, while he himself was still confined to his by his fever, his weakness, and his pain; he saw him get out of bed, then walk, first leaning on the surgeon’s arm, and then on a cane, and finally without assistance.

Coconnas, still delirious, viewed these different stages of his companion’s recovery with eyes sometimes dull, at others wandering, but always threatening.

All this presented to the Piedmontese’s fiery spirit a fearful mixture of the fantastic and the real. For him La Mole was dead, wholly dead, having been actually killed twice and not merely once, and yet he recognized this same La Mole’s ghost lying in a bed like his own; then, as we have said, he saw this ghost get up, walk round, and, horrible to relate, come toward his bed. This ghost, whom Coconnas would have wished to avoid, even had it been in the depths of hell, came straight to him and stopped beside his pillow, standing there and looking at him; there was in his features a look of gentleness and compassion which Coconnas took for the expression of hellish derision.

There arose in his mind, possibly more wounded than his body, an insatiable thirst of vengeance. He was wholly occupied with one idea, that of procuring some weapon, and with that weapon piercing the body or the ghost of La Mole which so cruelly persecuted him. His clothes, stained with blood, had been placed on a chair by his bed, but afterwards removed, it being thought imprudent to leave them in his sight; but his poniard still remained on the chair, for it was imagined it would be some time before he would want to use it.

Coconnas saw the poniard; three nights while La Mole was slumbering he strove to reach it; three nights his strength failed him, and he fainted. At length, on the fourth night, he clutched it convulsively, and groaning with the pain of the effort, hid the weapon beneath his pillow.

The next day he saw something he had never deemed possible. La Mole’s ghost, which every day seemed to gain strength, while he, occupied with the terrible dream, kept losing his in the eternal weaving of the scheme which was to rid him of it — La Mole’s ghost, growing more and more energetic, walked thoughtfully up and down the room three or four times, then, after having put on his mantle, buckled on his sword, and put on a broad-brimmed felt hat, opened the door and went out.

Coconnas breathed again. He thought that he was freed from his phantom. For two or three hours his blood circulated more calmly and coolly in his veins than it had done since the duel. La Mole’s absence for one day would have restored Coconnas to his senses; a week’s absence would perhaps have cured him; unfortunately, La Mole returned at the end of two hours.

This reappearance of La Mole was like a poniard-stab for Coconnas; and although La Mole did not return alone, Coconnas did not give a single look at his companion.

And yet his companion was worth looking at.

He was a man of forty, short, thick-set, and vigorous, with black hair which came to his eyebrows, and a black beard, which, contrary to the fashion of the period, thickly covered the chin; but he seemed one who cared little for the fashion.

He wore a leather jerkin, all covered with brown spots; red hose and leggings, thick shoes coming above the ankle, a cap the same color as his stockings, and a girdle, from which hung a large knife in a leather sheaf, completed his attire.

This singular personage, whose presence in the Louvre seemed so anomalous, threw his brown mantle on a chair and unceremoniously approached Coconnas, whose eyes, as if fascinated, remained fixed upon La Mole, who remained at some distance. He looked at the sick man, and shaking his head, said to La Mole:

“You have waited till it was rather late, my dear gentleman.”

“I could not get out sooner,” said La Mole.

“Eh! Heavens! you should have sent for me.”

“Whom had I to send?”

“True, I forgot where we are. I had told those ladies, but they would not listen to me. If my prescriptions had been followed instead of those of that ass, Ambroise Paré, you would by this time have been in a condition to go in pursuit of adventures together, or exchange another sword-thrust if such had been your good pleasure; but we shall see. Does your friend listen to reason?”

“Scarcely.”

“Hold out your tongue, my dear gentleman.”

Coconnas thrust out his tongue to La Mole, making such a hideous grimace that the practitioner shook his head a second time.

“Oho!” he muttered, “contraction of the muscles. There’s no time to be lost. This evening I will send you a potion ready prepared; you must make him take it three times: once at midnight, once at one o’clock, and once at two.”

“Very well.”

“But who will make him take it?”

“I will.”

“You?”

“Yes.”

“You give me your word?”

“On my honor.”

“And if any physician should attempt to abstract the slightest portion to analyze it and discover what its ingredients are”—

“I will spill it to the last drop.”

“This also on your honor?”

“I swear it!”

“Whom shall I send you this potion by?”

“Any one you please.”

“But my messenger”—

“Well?”

“How will he get to you?”

“That is easily managed. He will say that he comes from Monsieur Réné, the perfumer.”

“That Florentine who lives on the Pont Saint Michel?”

“Exactly. He is allowed to enter the Louvre at any hour, day or night.”

The man smiled.

“In fact,” said he, “the queen mother at least owes him that much. It is understood, then; he will come from Maître Réné, the perfumer. I may surely use his name for once: he has often enough practised my profession without having taken his degree either.”

“Then,” said La Mole, “I may rely on you.”

“You may.”

“And about the payment?”

“Oh, we will arrange about that with the gentleman himself when he is well again.”

“You may be quite easy on that score, for I am sure he will pay you generously.”

“I believe you. And yet,” he added with a strange smile, “as the people with whom I have to do are not wont to be grateful, I should not be surprised if when he is on his legs again he should forget or at least not think to give a single thought to me.”

“All right,” said La Mole, smiling also, “in that case I should have to jog his memory.”

“Very well, we’ll leave it so. In two hours you will receive the medicine.”

“Au revoir!”

“You said”—

“Au revoir.”

The man smiled.

“It is always my custom,” he added, “to say adieu! So adieu, Monsieur de la Mole. In two hours you will have the potion. You understand, it must be given at midnight — in three doses — at intervals of an hour.”

So saying he took his departure, and La Mole was left alone with Coconnas.

Coconnas had heard the whole conversation, but understood nothing of it; a senseless babble of words, a senseless jangling of phrases, was all that came to him. Of the whole interview he remembered nothing except the word “midnight.”

He continued to watch La Mole, who remained in the room, pacing thoughtfully up and down.

The unknown doctor kept his word, and at the appointed time sent the medicine, which La Mole placed on a small silver chafing-dish, and having taken this precaution, went to bed.

This action on the part of La Mole gave Coconnas a little quietude. He tried to shut his eyes, but his feverish slumbers were only a continuation of his waking delirium. The same phantom which haunted him by day came to disturb him by night; across his hot eyelids he still saw La Mole as threatening as ever, and a voice kept repeating in his ear: “Midnight, midnight, midnight!”

Suddenly the echoing note of a clock’s bell awoke in the night and struck twelve. Coconnas opened his blood-shot eyes; the fiery breath from his breast scorched his dry lips, an unquenchable thirst devoured his burning throat; the little night lamp was burning as usual, and its dim light made thousands of phantoms dance before his wandering eyes.

And then a horrible vision — he saw La Mole get out of bed, and after walking up and down the room two or three times, as the sparrow-hawk flits before the little bird it is trying to fascinate, come toward him with his fist clinched.

Coconnas seized his poniard and prepared to plunge it into his enemy.

La Mole kept coming nearer.

Coconnas muttered:

“Ah! here you are again! you are always here! Come on! You threaten me, do you! you smile! Come, come, come! ah, you still keep coming nearer, a step at a time! Come, come, and let me kill you.”

And suiting the action to the word, just as La Mole bent down to him, Coconnas flashed out the poniard from under the clothes; but the effort he made in rising exhausted him, the weapon dropped from his hand, and he fell back upon his pillow.

“There, there!” said La Mole, gently lifting his head; “drink this, my poor fellow, for you are burning up.”

It was really a cup La Mole presented to Coconnas, who in the wild excitement of his delirium took it to be a threatening fist.

But at the nectarous sensation of this beneficent draught, soothing his lips and cooling his throat, Coconnas’s reason, or rather his instinct, came back to him, a never before experienced feeling of comfort pervaded his frame; he turned an intelligent look at La Mole, who was supporting him in his arms, and smiling on him; and from those eyes, so lately glowing with fury, a tear rolled down his burning cheek, which drank it with avidity.

Mordi!” whispered Coconnas, as he fell back on his bolster. “If I get over this, Monsieur de la Mole, you shall be my friend.”

“And you will get over it,” said La Mole, “if you will drink the other two cups, and have no more ugly dreams.”

An hour afterward La Mole, assuming the duties of a nurse, and scrupulously carrying out the unknown doctor’s orders, rose again, poured a second dose into the cup, and carried it to Coconnas, who instead of waiting for him with his poniard, received him with open arms, eagerly swallowed the potion, and calmly fell asleep.

The third cup had a no less marvellous effect. The sick man’s breathing became more regular, his stiff limbs relaxed, a gentle perspiration diffused itself over his burning skin, and when Ambroise Paré visited him the next morning, he smiled complacently, saying:

“I answer for Monsieur de Coconnas now; and this will not be one of the least difficult cures I have effected.”

This scene, half-dramatic, half-burlesque, and yet not lacking in a certain poetic touch when Coconnas’s fierce ways were taken into consideration, resulted in the friendship which the two gentlemen had begun at the Inn of the Belle Étoile, and which had been so violently interrupted by the Saint Bartholomew night’s occurrences, from that time forth taking on a new vigor and soon surpassing that of Orestes and Pylades by five sword-thrusts and one pistol-wound exchanged between them.

At all events, wounds old and new, slight or serious, were at last in a fair way of cure. La Mole, faithful to his duties as nurse, would not forsake the sick-room until Coconnas was entirely well. As long as weakness kept the invalid on the bed, he lifted him, and when he began to improve he helped him to walk; in a word, he lavished on him all the attentions suggested by his gentle and affectionate disposition, and this care, together with the Piedmontese’s natural vigor, brought about a more rapid convalescence than would have been expected.

However, one and the same thought tormented both the young men. Each had in his delirium apparently seen the woman he loved approach his couch, and yet, certainly since they had recovered their senses, neither Marguerite nor Madame de Nevers had entered the room. However, that was perfectly comprehensible; the one, wife of the King of Navarre, the other, the Duc de Guise’s sister-inlaw, could not have publicly shown two simple gentlemen such a mark of evident interest, could they? No! La Mole and Coconnas could not make any other reply to this question. But still the absence of the ladies, tantamount perhaps to utter forgetfulness, was not the less painful.

It is true the gentleman who had witnessed the duel had come several times, as if of his own accord, to inquire after them; it is true Gillonne had done the same; but La Mole had not ventured to speak to the one concerning the queen; Coconnas had not ventured to speak to the other of Madame de Nevers.

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