Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 21.

Madame De Sauve’s Apartment.

Catharine was not deceived in her suspicions. Henry had resumed his former habits and went every evening to Madame de Sauve’s. At first he accomplished this with the greatest secrecy; but gradually he grew negligent and ceased to take any precautions, so that Catharine had no trouble in finding out that while Marguerite was still nominally Queen of Navarre, Madame de Sauve was the real queen.

At the beginning of this story we said a word or two about Madame de Sauve’s apartment; but the door opened by Dariole to the King of Navarre closed hermetically behind him, so that these rooms, the scene of the Béarnais’s mysterious amours, are totally unknown to us. The quarters, like those furnished by princes for their dependents in the palaces occupied by them in order to have them within reach, were smaller and less convenient than what she could have found in the city itself. As the reader already knows, they were situated on the second floor of the palace, almost immediately above those occupied by Henry himself. The door opened into a corridor, the end of which was lighted by an arched window with small leaded panes, so that even in the loveliest days of the year only a dubious light filtered through. During the winter, after three o’clock in the afternoon, it was necessary to light a lamp, but as this contained no more oil than in summer, it went out by ten o’clock, and thus, as soon as the winter days arrived, gave the two lovers the greatest security.

A small antechamber, carpeted with yellow flowered damask; a reception-room with hangings of blue velvet; a sleeping-room, the bed adorned with twisted columns and rose-satin curtains, enshrining a ruelle ornamented with a looking-glass set in silver, and two paintings representing the loves of Venus and Adonis — such was the residence, or as one would say nowadays the nest, of the lovely lady-inwaiting to Queen Catharine de Médicis.

If one had looked sharply one would have found, opposite a toilet-table provided with every accessory, a small door in a dark corner of this room opening into a sort of oratory where, raised on two steps, stood a priedieu. In this little chapel on the wall hung three or four paintings, to the highest degree spiritual, as if to serve as a corrective to the two mythological pictures which we mentioned. Among these paintings were hung on gilded nails weapons such as women carried.

That evening, which was the one following the scenes which we have described as taking place at Maître Réné‘s, Madame de Sauve, seated in her bedroom on a couch, was telling Henry about her fears and her love, and was giving him as a proof of her love the devotion which she had shown on the famous night following Saint Bartholomew’s, the night which, it will be remembered, Henry spent in his wife’s quarters.

Henry on his side was expressing his gratitude to her. Madame de Sauve was charming that evening in her simple batiste wrapper; and Henry was very grateful.

At the same time, as Henry was really in love, he was dreamy. Madame de Sauve, who had come actually to love instead of pretending to love as Catharine had commanded, kept gazing at Henry to see if his eyes were in accord with his words.

“Come, now, Henry,” she was saying, “be honest; that night which you spent in the boudoir of her majesty the Queen of Navarre, with Monsieur de la Mole at your feet, didn’t you feel sorry that that worthy gentleman was between you and the queen’s bedroom?”

“Certainly I did, sweetheart,” said Henry, “for the only way that I could reach this room where I am so comfortable, where at this instant I am so happy, was for me to pass through the queen’s room.”

Madame de Sauve smiled.

“And you have not been there since?”

“Only as I have told you.”

“You will never go to her without informing me?”

“Never.”

“Would you swear to it?”

“Certainly I would, if I were still a Huguenot, but”—

“But what?”

“But the Catholic religion, the dogmas of which I am now learning, teach me that one must never take an oath.”

“Gascon!” exclaimed Madame de Sauve, shaking her head.

“But now it is my turn, Charlotte,” said Henry. “If I ask you some questions, will you answer?”

“Certainly I will,” replied the young woman, “I have nothing to hide from you.”

“Now look here, Charlotte,” said the king, “explain to me just for once how it came about that after the desperate resistance which you made to me before my marriage, you became less cruel to me who am an awkward Béarnais, an absurd provincial, a prince too poverty-stricken, indeed, to keep the jewels of his crown polished.”

“Henry,” said Charlotte, “you are asking the explanation of the enigma which the philosophers of all countries have been trying to determine for the past three thousand years! Henry, never ask a woman why she loves you; be satisfied with asking, ‘Do you love me?’”

“Do you love me, Charlotte?” asked Henry.

“I love you,” replied Madame de Sauve, with a fascinating smile, dropping her pretty hand into her lover’s.

Henry retained the hand.

“But,” he went on to say, following out his thought, “supposing I have guessed the word which the philosophers have been vainly trying to find for three thousand years — at least as far as you are concerned, Charlotte?”

Madame de Sauve blushed.

“You love me,” pursued Henry, “consequently I have nothing else to ask you and I consider myself the happiest man in the world. But you know happiness is always accompanied by some lack. Adam, in the midst of Eden, was not perfectly happy, and he bit into that miserable apple which imposed upon us all that love for novelty that makes every one spend his life in the search for something unknown. Tell me, my darling, in order to help me to find mine, didn’t Queen Catharine at first bid you love me?”

“Henry,” exclaimed Madame de Sauve, “speak lower when you speak of the queen mother!”

“Oh!” exclaimed Henry, with a spontaneity and boldness which deceived Madame de Sauve herself, “it was a good thing formerly to distrust her, kind mother that she is, but then we were not on good terms; but now that I am her daughter’s husband”—

“Madame Marguerite’s husband!” exclaimed Charlotte, flushing with jealousy.

“Speak low in your turn,” said Henry; “now that I am her daughter’s husband we are the best friends in the world. What was it they wanted? For me to become a Catholic, so it seems. Well, grace has touched me, and by the intercession of Saint Bartholomew I have become one. We live together like brethren in a happy family — like good Christians.”

“And Queen Marguerite?”

“Queen Marguerite?” repeated Henry; “oh, well, she is the link uniting us.”

“But, Henry, you said that the Queen of Navarre, as a reward for the devotion I showed her, had been generous to me. If what you say is true, if this generosity, for which I have cherished deep gratitude toward her, is genuine, she is a connecting link easy to break. So you cannot trust to this support, for you have not made your pretended intimacy impose on any one.”

“Still I do rest on it, and for three months it has been the bolster on which I have slept.”

“Then, Henry!” cried Madame de Sauve, “you have deceived me, and Madame Marguerite is really your wife.”

Henry smiled.

“There, Henry,” said Madame de Sauve, “you have given me one of those exasperating smiles which make me feel the cruel desire to scratch your eyes out, king though you are.”

“Then,” said Henry, “I seem to be imposing now by means of this pretended friendship, since there are moments when, king though I am, you desire to scratch out my eyes, because you believe that it exists!”

“Henry! Henry!” said Madame de Sauve, “I believe that God himself does not know what your thoughts are.”

“My sweetheart,” said Henry, “I think that Catharine first told you to love me, next, that your heart told you the same thing, and that when those two voices are speaking to you, you hear only your heart’s. Now here I am. I love you and love you with my whole heart, and that is the very reason why if ever I should have secrets I should not confide them to you — for fear of compromising you, of course — for the queen’s friendship is changeable, it is a mother-inlaw’s.”

This was not what Charlotte expected; it seemed to her that the thickening veil between her and her lover every time she tried to sound the depths of his bottomless heart was assuming the consistency of a wall, and was separating them from each other. So she felt the tears springing to her eyes as he made this answer, and as it struck ten o’clock just at that moment:

“Sire,” said Charlotte, “it is my bed-time; my duties call me very early tomorrow morning to the queen mother.”

“So you drive me away to-night, do you, sweetheart?”

“Henry, I am sad. As I am sad, you would find me tedious and you would not like me any more. You see that it is better for you to withdraw.”

“Very good,” said Henry, “I will withdraw if you insist upon it, only, ventre saint gris! you must at least grant me the favor of staying for your toilet.”

“But Queen Marguerite, sire! won’t you keep her waiting if you remain?”

“Charlotte,” replied Henry, gravely, “it was agreed between us that we should never mention the Queen of Navarre, but it seems to me that this evening we have talked about nothing but her.”

Madame de Sauve sighed; then she went and sat down before her toilet-table. Henry took a chair, pulled it along toward the one that served as his mistress’s seat, and setting one knee on it while he leaned on the back of the other, he said:

“Come, my good little Charlotte, let me see you make yourself beautiful, and beautiful for me whatever you said. Heavens! What things! What scent-bottles, what powders, what phials, what perfumery boxes!”

“It seems a good deal,” said Charlotte, with a sigh, “and yet it is too little, since with it all I have not as yet found the means of reigning exclusively over your majesty’s heart.”

“There!” exclaimed Henry; “let us not fall back on politics! What is that little fine delicate brush? Should it not be for painting the eyebrows of my Olympian Jupiter?”

“Yes, sire,” replied Madame de Sauve, “and you have guessed at the first shot!”

“And that pretty little ivory rake?”

“’Tis for parting the hair!”

“And that charming little silver box with a chased cover?”

“Oh, that is something Réné sent, sire; ’tis the famous opiate which he has been promising me so long — to make still sweeter the lips which your majesty has been good enough sometimes to find rather sweet.”

And Henry, as if to test what the charming woman said, touched his lips to the ones which she was looking at so attentively in the mirror. Now that they were returning to the field of coquetry, the cloud began to lift from the baroness’s brow. She took up the box which had thus been explained, and was just going to show Henry how the vermilion salve was used, when a sharp rap at the antechamber door startled the two lovers.

“Some one is knocking, madame,” said Dariole, thrusting her head through the opening of the portière.

“Go and find out who it is, and come back,” said Madame de Sauve. Henry and Charlotte looked at each other anxiously, and Henry was beginning to think of retiring to the oratory, in which he had already more than once taken refuge, when Dariole reappeared.

“Madame,” said she, “it is Maître Réné, the perfumer.”

At this name Henry frowned, and involuntarily bit his lips.

“Do you want me to refuse him admission?” asked Charlotte.

“No!” said Henry; “Maître Réné never does anything without having previously thought about it. If he comes to you, it is because he has a reason for coming.”

“In that case, do you wish to hide?”

“I shall be careful not to,” said Henry, “for Maître Réné knows everything; therefore Maître Réné knows that I am here.”

“But has not your majesty some reason for thinking his presence painful to you?”

“I!” said Henry, making an effort, which in spite of his will-power he could not wholly dissimulate. “I! none at all! we are rather cool to each other, it is true; but since the night of Saint Bartholomew we have been reconciled.”

“Let him enter!” said Madame de Sauve to Dariole.

A moment later Réné appeared, and took in the whole room at a glance.

Madame de Sauve was still before her toilet-table.

Henry had resumed his place on the couch.

Charlotte was in the light, and Henry in the shadow.

“Madame,” said Réné, with respectful familiarity, “I have come to offer my apologies.”

“For what, Réné?” asked Madame de Sauve, with that condescension which pretty women always use towards the world of tradespeople who surround them, and whose duty it is to make them more beautiful.

“Because long ago I promised to work for these pretty lips, and because”—

“Because you did not keep your promise until today; is that it?” asked Charlotte.

“Until today?” repeated Réné.

“Yes; it was only today, in fact, this evening, that I received the box you sent me.”

“Ah! indeed!” said Réné, looking strangely at the small opiate box on Madame de Sauve’s table, which was precisely like those he had in his shop. “I thought so!” he murmured. “And you have used it?”

“No, not yet. I was just about to try it as you entered.” Réné‘s face assumed a dreamy expression which did not escape Henry. Indeed, very few things escaped him.

“Well, Réné, what are you going to do now?” asked the king.

“I? Nothing, sire,” said the perfumer, “I am humbly waiting until your majesty speaks to me, before taking leave of Madame la Baronne.”

“Come, now!” said Henry, smiling. “Do you need my word to know that it is a pleasure to me to see you?”

Réné glanced around him, made a tour of the room as if to sound the doors and the curtains with his eye and ear, then he stopped and standing so that he could embrace at a glance both Madame de Sauve and Henry:

“I do not know it,” said he, thanks to that admirable instinct which like a sixth sense guided him during the first part of his life in the midst of impending dangers. Henry felt that at that moment something strangely resembling a struggle was passing through the mind of the perfumer, and turned towards him, still in the shadow, while the Florentine’s face was in the light.

“You here at this hour, Réné?” said he.

“Am I unfortunate enough to be in your majesty’s way?” asked the perfumer, stepping back.

“No, but I want to know one thing.”

“What, sire?”

“Did you think you would find me here?”

“I was sure of it.”

“You wanted me, then?”

“I am glad to have found you, at least.”

“Have you something to say to me?” persisted Henry.

“Perhaps, sire!” replied Réné.

Charlotte blushed, for she feared that the revelation which the perfumer seemed anxious to make might have something to do with her conduct towards Henry. Therefore she acted as though, having been wholly engrossed with her toilet, she had heard nothing, and interrupted the conversation.

“Ah! really, Réné,” said she, opening the opiate box, “you are a delightful man. This cake is a marvellous color, and since you are here I am going to honor you by experimenting with your new production.”

She took the box in one hand, and with the other touched the tip of her finger to the rose paste, which she was about to raise to her lips.

Réné gave a start.

The baroness smilingly lifted the opiate to her mouth.

Réné turned pale.

Still in the shadow, but with fixed and glowing eyes, Henry lost neither the action of the one nor the shudder of the other.

Charlotte’s hand had but a short distance to go before it would touch her lips when Réné seized her arm, just as Henry rose to do so.

Henry fell back noiselessly on the couch.

“One moment, madame,” said Réné, with a constrained smile, “you must not use this opiate without special directions.”

“Who will give me these directions?”

“I.”

“When?”

“As soon as I have finished saying what I have to say to his Majesty the King of Navarre.”

Charlotte opened her eyes wide, understanding nothing of the mysterious language about her, and sat with the opiate pot in one hand, gazing at the tip of her finger, red with the rouge.

Henry rose, and moved by a thought which, like all those of the young king, had two sides, one which seemed superficial, the other which was deep, he took Charlotte’s hand and red as it was, made as though to raise it to his lips.

“One moment,” said Réné, quickly, “one moment! Be kind enough, madame, to rinse your lovely hands with this soap from Naples which I neglected to send you at the same time as the rouge, and which I have the honor of bringing you now.”

Drawing from its silver wrapping a cake of green soap, he put it in a vermilion basin, poured some water over it, and, with one knee on the floor, offered it to Madame de Sauve.

“Why, really, Maître Réné, I no longer recognize you,” said Henry, “you are so gallant that you far outstrip every court fop.”

“Oh, what a delicious perfume!” cried Charlotte, rubbing her beautiful hands with the pearly foam made by the scented cake.

Réné performed his office of courtier to the end. He offered a napkin of fine Frisian linen to Madame de Sauve, who dried her hands on it.

“Now,” said the Florentine to Henry. “Let your mind be at rest, monseigneur.”

Charlotte gave her hand to Henry, who kissed it, and while she half turned on her chair to listen to what Réné was about to say, the King of Navarre returned to his couch, more convinced than ever that something unusual was passing through the mind of the perfumer.

“Well?” asked Charlotte. The Florentine apparently made an effort to collect all his strength, and then turned towards Henry.

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