Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 22.

“Sire, You Shall Be King.”

“Sire,” said Réné to Henry, “I have come to speak of something which has been on my mind for some time.”

“Perfumery?” said Henry, smiling.

“Well, yes, sire — perfumery,” replied Réné, with a singular nod of acquiescence.

“Speak, I am listening to you. This is a subject which has always interested me deeply.”

Réné looked at Henry to try, in spite of his words, to read the impenetrable thought; but seeing that it was perfectly impossible, he continued:

“One of my friends, sire, has just arrived from Florence. This friend is greatly interested in astrology.”

“Yes,” interrupted Henry, “I know that it is a passion with Florentines.”

“In company with the foremost students of the world he has read the horoscopes of the chief gentlemen of Europe.”

“Ah! ah!” exclaimed Henry.

“And as the house of Bourbon is at the head of the highest, descended as it is from the Count of Clermont, the fifth son of Saint Louis, your majesty must know that your horoscope has not been overlooked.”

Henry listened still more attentively.

“Do you remember this horoscope?” said the King of Navarre, with a smile which he strove to render indifferent.

“Oh!” replied Réné, shaking his head, “your horoscope is not one to be forgotten.”

“Indeed!” said Henry, ironically.

“Yes, sire; according to this horoscope your majesty is to have a most brilliant destiny.”

The young prince gave a lightning glance which was almost at once lost under cover of indifference.

“Every Italian oracle is apt to flatter,” said Henry; “but he who flatters lies. Are there not those who have predicted that I would command armies? I!” He burst out laughing. But an observer less occupied with himself than Réné would have noticed and realized the effort of this laugh.

“Sire,” said Réné, coldly, “the horoscope tells better than that.”

“Does it foretell that at the head of one of these armies I shall win battles?”

“Better than that, sire.”

“Well,” said Henry; “you will see that I shall be conqueror!”

“Sire, you shall be king.”

“Well! Ventre saint gris!” exclaimed Henry, repressing a violent beating of his heart; “am I not that already?”

“Sire, my friend knows what he promises; not only will you be king, but you will reign.”

“In that case,” said Henry, in the same mocking tone, “your friend must have ten crowns of gold, must he not, Réné? for such a prophecy is very ambitious, especially in times like these. Well, Réné, as I am not rich, I will give your friend five now and five more when the prophecy is fulfilled.”

“Sire,” said Madame de Sauve, “do not forget that you are already pledged to Dariole, and do not overburden yourself with promises.”

“Madame,” said Henry, “I hope when this time comes that I shall be treated as a king, and that they will be satisfied if I keep half of my promises.”

“Sire,” said Réné, “I will continue.”

“Oh, that is not all, then?” said Henry. “Well, if I am emperor, I will give twice as much.”

“Sire, my friend has returned from Florence with the horoscope, which he renewed in Paris, and which always gives the same result; and he told me a secret.”

“A secret of interest to his majesty?” asked Charlotte, quickly.

“I think so,” said the Florentine.

“He is searching for words,” thought Henry, without in any way coming to Réné‘s rescue. “Apparently the thing is difficult to tell.”

“Speak, then,” went on the Baroness de Sauve; “what is it about?”

“It is about all the rumors of poisoning,” said the Florentine, weighing each of his words separately, “it is about all the rumors of poisoning which for some time have been circulated around court.” A slight movement of the nostrils of the King of Navarre was the only indication of his increased attention at the sudden turn in the conversation.

“And your friend the Florentine,” said Henry, “knows something about this poisoning?”

“Yes, sire.”

“How can you tell me a secret which is not yours, Réné, especially when the secret is such an important one?” said Henry, in the most natural tone he could assume.

“This friend has some advice to ask of your majesty.”

“Of me?”

“What is there surprising in that, sire? Remember the old soldier of Actium who, having a law-suit on hand, asked advice of Augustus.”

“Augustus was a lawyer, Réné, and I am not.”

“Sire, when my friend confided this secret to me, your majesty still belonged to the Calvinist party, of which you were the chief head, and of which Monsieur de Condé was the second.”

“Well?” said Henry.

“This friend hoped that you would use your all-powerful influence over Monsieur de Condé and beg him not to be hostile to him.”

“Explain this to me, Réné, if you wish me to understand it,” said Henry, without betraying the least change in his face or voice.

“Sire, your majesty will understand at the first word. This friend knows all the particulars of the attempt to poison Monseigneur de Condé.”

“There has been an attempt to poison the Prince de Condé?” exclaimed Henry with a well-assumed astonishment. “Ah, indeed, and when was this?”

Réné looked fixedly at the king, and replied merely by these words:

“A week ago, your majesty.”

“Some enemy?” asked the king.

“Yes,” replied Réné, “an enemy whom your majesty knows and who knows your majesty.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Henry, “I think I have heard this mentioned, but I am ignorant of the details which your friend has to reveal. Tell them to me.”

“Well, a perfumed apple was offered to the Prince of Condé. Fortunately, however, when it was brought to him his physician was with him. He took it from the hands of the messenger and smelled it to test its odor and soundness. Two days later a gangrene swelling of the face, an extravasation of the blood, a running sore which ate away his face, were the price of his devotion or the result of his imprudence.”

“Unfortunately,” replied Henry, “being half Catholic already, I have lost all influence over Monsieur de Condé. Your friend was wrong, therefore, in addressing himself to me.”

“It was not only in regard to the Prince de Condé that your majesty could be of use to my friend, but in regard to the Prince de Porcian also, the brother of the one who was poisoned.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Charlotte, “do you know, Réné, that your stories partake of the gruesome? You plead at a poor time. It is late, your conversation is death-like. Really, your perfumes are worth more.” Charlotte again extended her hand towards the opiate box.

“Madame,” said Réné, “before testing that, as you are about to do, hear what cruel results wicked men can draw from it.”

“Really, Réné,” said the baroness, “you are funereal this evening.”

Henry frowned, but he understood that Réné wished to reach a goal which he did not yet see, and he resolved to push towards this end the conversation which awakened in him such painful memories.

“And,” he continued, “you knew the details of the poisoning of the Prince de Porcian?”

“Yes,” said he. “It is known that every night he left a lamp burning near his bed; the oil was poisoned and he was asphyxiated.”

Henry clinched his fingers, which were damp with perspiration.

“So,” he murmured, “he whom you call your friend knows not only the details of the poisoning, but the author of it?”

“Yes, and it is for this reason that he wished to ask you if you would use over the Prince of Porcian the remains of that influence and have the murderer pardoned for the death of his brother.”

“Unfortunately,” replied Henry, “still being half Huguenot, I have no influence over Monsieur le Prince de Porcian; your friend therefore would have done wrong in speaking to me.”

“But what do you think of the intentions of Monsieur le Prince de Condé and of Monsieur de Porcian?”

“How should I know their intentions, Réné? God, whom I may know, has not given me the privilege of reading their hearts.”

“Your majesty must ask yourself,” said the Florentine calmly. “Is there not in the life of your majesty some event so gloomy that it can serve as a test of clemency, so painful that it is a touchstone for generosity?”

These words were uttered in a tone which made Charlotte herself tremble. It was an allusion so direct, so pointed, that the young woman turned aside to hide her blush, and to avoid meeting Henry’s eyes. Henry made a supreme effort over himself; his forehead, which during the words of the Florentine wore threatening lines, unbent, and he changed the dignified, filial grief which tightened his heart into vague meditation.

“In my life,” said he, “a gloomy circumstance — no, Réné, no; I remember in my youth only folly and carelessness mingled with more or less cruel necessity imposed on every one by the demands of nature and the proofs of God.”

Réné in turn became constrained as he glanced from Henry to Charlotte, as though to rouse the one and hold back the other; for Charlotte had returned to her toilet to hide the anxiety caused by their conversation, and had again extended her hand towards the opiate box.

“But, sire, if you were the brother of the Prince of Porcian or the son of the Prince of Condé, and if they had poisoned your brother or assassinated your father”— Charlotte uttered a slight cry and raised the opiate to her lips. Réné saw the gesture, but this time he stopped her neither by word nor gesture; he merely exclaimed:

“In Heaven’s name, sire, answer! Sire, if you were in their place what would you do?”

Henry recovered himself. With trembling hand he wiped his forehead, on which stood drops of cold perspiration, and rising to his full height, replied in the midst of the silence which until then had held Réné and Charlotte:

“If I were in their place, and if I were sure of being king, that is, sure of representing God on earth, I would act like God, I should pardon.”

“Madame,” cried Réné, snatching the opiate from the hands of Madame de Sauve, “madame, give me back this box; my messenger boy, I see, has made a mistake in it. To-morrow I will send you another.”

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