Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 31.

The Hunt.

The outrider who had turned aside the boar and who had told the King that the animal had not left the place was not mistaken. Scarcely were the bloodhounds put on the trail before it plunged into the thickets, and from a cluster of thorn bushes drove out the boar which the outrider had recognized by its track. It was a recluse; that is, the strangest kind of animal.

It started straight ahead and crossed the road fifty feet from the King, followed only by the bloodhound which had driven it back. The first relay of dogs was at once let loose, twenty in number, which sprang after it.

Hunting was Charles’ chief passion. Scarcely had the animal crossed the road before he started after it, followed by the Duc d’Alençon and Henry, to whom a sign had indicated that he must not leave Charles.

The rest of the hunters followed the King.

At the time of which we are writing, the royal forests were far from being what they are today, great parks intersected by carriage roads. Then traffic was almost wanting. Kings had not yet conceived the idea of being merchants, and of dividing their woods into fellings, copses, and forests. The trees, planted, not by learned foresters, but by the hand of God, who threw the grain to the will of the winds, were not arranged in quincunxes, but grew as they pleased, as they do today in any virginal forest of America. In short, a forest in those days was a den of the wild boar, the stag, the wolf, and robbers; and a dozen paths starting from one point starred that of Bondy, surrounded by a circular road as the circle of a wheel surrounds its fellies.

To carry the comparison further, the nave would not be a bad representation of the single point where the parties meet in the centre of the wood, where the wandering hunters rally to start out again towards the point where the lost animal again appears.

At the end of a quarter of an hour there happened what always happens in such cases. Insurmountable obstacles rose in the path of the hunters, the cries of the dogs were lost in the distance, and the King returned to the meeting-place cursing and swearing as was his habit.

“Well, D’Alençon! Well, Henriot!” said he, “there you are, by Heaven, as calm and unruffled as nuns following their abbess. That is not hunting. Why, D’Alençon, you look as though you had just stepped out of a band-box, and you are so saturated with perfumery that if you were to pass between the boar and my dogs, you might put them off the scent. And you, Henry, where is your spear, your musket? Let us see!”

“Sire,” said Henry, “of what use is a musket? I know that your Majesty likes to shoot the beast when the dogs have caught it. As to a spear, I am clumsy enough with this weapon, which is not much used among our mountains, where we hunt the bear with a simple dagger.”

“By Heavens, Henry, when you return to your Pyrenees you will have to send me a whole cartload of bears. It must be a pretty hunt that is carried on at such close quarters with an animal which might strangle us. Listen, I think I hear the dogs. No, I am mistaken.” The King took his horn and blew a blast; several horns answered him. Suddenly an outrider appeared who blew another blast.

“The boar! the boar!” cried the King.

He galloped off, followed by the rest of the hunters who had rallied round him.

The outrider was not mistaken. As the King advanced they began to hear the barking of the pack, which consisted of more than sixty dogs, for one after another they had let loose all the relays placed at the points the boar had already passed. The King saw the boar again, and taking advantage of a clump of high trees, he rushed after him, blowing his horn with all his might.

For some time the princes followed him. But the King had such a strong horse and was so carried away by his ardor, and he rode over such rough roads and through such thick underbrush, that at first the ladies, then the Duc de Guise and his gentlemen, and finally the two princes, were forced to abandon him. Tavannes held out for a time longer, but at length he too gave up.

Except Charles and a few outriders who, excited over a promised reward, would not leave the King, everyone had gathered about the open space in the centre of the wood. The two princes were together on a narrow path, the Duc de Guise and his gentlemen had halted a hundred feet from them. Further on were the ladies.

“Does it not really seem,” said the Duc d’Alençon to Henry, indicating by a wink the Duc de Guise, “that that man with his escort sheathed in steel is the real king? Poor princes that we are, he does not even honor us by a glance.”

“Why should he treat us better than we treat our own relatives?” replied Henry. “Why, brother, are not you and I prisoners at the court of France, hostages from our party?”

Duc François started at these words, and looked at Henry as if to provoke further explanation; but Henry had said more than he usually did and was silent.

“What do you mean, Henry?” asked the Duc François, visibly annoyed that his brother-inlaw by stopping had left him to open the conversation.

“I say, brother,” said Henry, “that all these men who are so well armed, whose duty seems to be not to lose sight of us, look exactly like guards preventing two people from running away.”

“Running away? why? how?” asked D’Alençon, admirably successful in his pretended surprise and innocence.

“You have a magnificent mount, François,” said Henry, following out his thoughts, while apparently changing the conversation. “I am sure he could make seven leagues in an hour, and twenty between now and noon. It is a fine day. And one feels like saying good-by. See the beautiful cross-road. Does it not tempt you, François? As to me, my spurs burn me.”

François did not reply. But he first turned red and then white. Then he bent his head, as if listening for sounds from the hunters.

“The news from Poland is having its effect,” said Henry, “and my dear brother-inlaw has his plans. He would like me to escape, but I shall not do so by myself.”

Scarcely had this thought passed through his mind before several new converts, who had come to court during the past two or three months, galloped up and smiled pleasantly on the two princes. The Duc d’Alençon, provoked by Henry’s remarks, had but one word to say, one gesture to make, and it was evident that thirty or forty horsemen, who at that moment gathered around them as though to oppose the troop belonging to Monsieur de Guise, favored his flight; but he turned aside his head, and, raising his horn to his lips, he sounded the rally. But the newcomers, as if they thought that the hesitation on the part of the Duc d’Alençon was due to the presence of the followers of the De Guises, had by degrees glided among them and the two princes, and had drawn themselves up in echelons with a strategic skill which showed the usual military disposition. In fact, to reach the Duc d’Alençon and the King of Navarre it would have been necessary to pass through this company, while, as far as eye could reach, a perfectly free road stretched out before the brothers.

Suddenly from among the trees, ten feet from the King of Navarre, another gentleman appeared, as yet unperceived by the two princes. Henry was trying to think who he was, when the gentleman raised his hat and Henry recognized him as the Vicomte de Turenne, one of the leaders of the Protestant party, who was supposed to be in Poitou.

The vicomte even ventured to make a sign which clearly meant,

“Will you come?”

But having consulted the impassable face and dull eye of the Duc d’Alençon, Henry turned his head two or three times over his shoulder as if something was the matter with his neck or doublet.

This was a refusal. The vicomte understood it, put both spurs to his horse and disappeared in the thicket. At that moment the pack was heard approaching, then they saw the boar followed by the dogs cross the end of the path where they were all gathered; then Charles IX., like an infernal hunter, hatless, the horn at his mouth blowing enough to burst his lungs; three or four outriders followed. Tavannes had disappeared.

“The King!” cried the Duc d’Alençon, and he rode after him.

Reassured by the presence of his good friends, Henry signed to them not to leave, and advanced towards the ladies.

“Well!” said Marguerite, taking a few steps towards him.

“Well, madame,” said Henry, “we are hunting the wild boar.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, the wind has changed since morning; but I believe you predicted this.”

“These changes of the wind are bad for hunting, are they not, monsieur?” asked Marguerite.

“Yes,” said Henry; “they sometimes upset all plans, which have to be made over again.” Just then the barking of the dogs began to be heard as they rapidly approached, and a sort of noisy dust warned the hunters to be on their guard. Each one raised his head and listened.

Almost immediately the boar appeared again, but instead of returning to the woods, he followed the road that led directly to the open space where were the ladies, the gentlemen paying court to them, and the hunters who had given up the chase.

Behind the animal came thirty or forty great dogs, panting; then, twenty feet behind them, King Charles without hat or cloak, his clothes torn by the thorns, his face and hands covered with blood.

One or two outriders were with him.

The King stopped blowing his horn only to urge on his dogs, and stopped urging on his dogs only to return to his horn. He saw no one. Had his horse stumbled, he might have cried out as did Richard III.: “My kingdom for a horse!” But the horse seemed as eager as his master. His feet did not touch the ground, and his nostrils breathed forth fire. Boar, dogs, and King passed like a dream.

“Halloo! halloo!” cried the King as he went by, raising the horn to his bloody lips.

A few feet behind him came the Duc d’Alençon and two outriders. But the horses of the others had given out or else they were lost.

Everyone started after the King, for it was evident that the boar would soon be taken.

In fact, at the end of about ten minutes the animal left the path it had been following, and sprang into the bushes; but reaching an open space, it ran to a rock and faced the dogs.

At the shouts from Charles, who had followed it, everyone drew near.

They arrived at an interesting point in the chase. The boar seemed determined to make a desperate defence. The dogs, excited by a run of more than three hours, rushed on it with a fury which increased the shouts and the oaths of the King.

All the hunters formed a circle, the King somewhat in advance, behind him the Duc d’Alençon armed with a musket, and Henry, who had nothing but his simple hunting knife.

The Duc d’Alençon unfastened his musket and lighted the match. Henry moved his knife in its sheath.

As to the Duc de Guise, disdainful of all the details of hunting, he stood somewhat apart from the others with his gentlemen. The women, gathered together in a group, formed a counterpart to that of the duke.

Everyone who was anything of a hunter stood with eyes fixed on the animal in anxious expectation.

To one side an outrider was endeavoring to restrain the King’s two mastiffs, which, encased in their coats of mail, were waiting to take the boar by the ears, howling and jumping about in such a manner that every instant one might think they would burst their chains.

The boar made a wonderful resistance. Attacked at once by forty or more dogs, which enveloped it like a roaring tide, which covered it by their motley carpet, which on all sides was striving to reach its skin, wrinkled with bristles, at each blow of its snout it hurled a dog ten feet in the air. The dogs fell back, torn to pieces, and, with entrails dragging, at once returned to the fray. Charles, with hair on end, bloodshot eyes, and inflated nostrils, leaned over the neck of his dripping horse shouting furious “halloos!”

In less than ten minutes twenty dogs were out of the fight.

“The mastiffs!” cried Charles; “the mastiffs!”

At this shout the outrider opened the carbine-swivels of the leashes, and the two bloodhounds rushed into the midst of the carnage, overturning everything, scattering everything, making a way with their coats of mail to the animal, which they seized by the ear.

The boar, knowing that it was caught, clinched its teeth both from rage and pain.

“Bravo, Duredent! Bravo, Risquetout!” cried Charles. “Courage, dogs! A spear! a spear!”

“Do you not want my musket?” said the Duc d’Alençon.

“No,” cried the King, “no; one cannot feel a bullet when he shoots; there is no fun in it; but one can feel a spear. A spear! a spear!”

They handed the King a hunting spear hardened by fire and armed with a steel point.

“Take care, brother!” cried Marguerite.

“Come! come!” cried the Duchesse de Nevers. “Do not miss, sire. Give the beast a good stab!”

“Be easy, duchess!” said Charles.

Couching his lance, he darted at the boar which, held by the two bloodhounds, could not escape the blow. But at sight of the shining lance it turned to one side, and the weapon, instead of sinking into its breast, glided over its shoulder and blunted itself against the rock to which the animal had run.

“A thousand devils!” cried the King. “I have missed him. A spear! a spear!”

And bending back, as horsemen do when they are going to take a fence, he hurled his useless lance from him.

An outrider advanced and offered him another.

But at that moment, as though it foresaw the fate which awaited it, and which it wished to resist, by a violent effort the boar snatched its torn ears from the teeth of the bloodhounds, and with eyes bloody, protruding, hideous, its breath burning like the heat from a furnace, with chattering teeth and lowered head it sprang at the King’s horse. Charles was too good a hunter not to have foreseen this. He turned his horse, which began to rear, but he had miscalculated the pressure, and the horse, too tightly reined in, or perhaps giving way to his fright, fell over backwards. The spectators gave a terrible cry: the horse had fallen, and the King’s leg was under him.

“Your hand, sire, give me your hand,” said Henry.

The King let go his horse’s bridle, seized the saddle with his left hand, and tried to draw out his hunting knife with his right; but the knife, pressed into his belt by the weight of his body, would not come from its sheath.

“The boar! the boar!” cried Charles; “it is on me, D’Alençon! on me!”

The horse, recovering himself as if he understood his master’s danger, stretched his muscles, and had already succeeded in getting up on its three legs, when, at the cry from his brother, Henry saw the Duc François grow frightfully pale and raise the musket to his shoulder, but, instead of striking the boar, which was but two feet from the King, the ball broke the knee of the horse, which fell down again, his nose touching the ground. At that instant the boar, with its snout, tore Charles’s boot.

“Oh!” murmured D’Alençon with ashy lips, “I suppose that the Duc d’Anjou is King of France, and that I am King of Poland.”

The boar was about to attack Charles’s leg, when suddenly the latter felt someone raise his arm; then he saw the flash of a sharp-pointed blade which was driven into the shoulder of the boar and disappeared up to its guard, while a hand gloved in steel turned aside the head already poked under his clothes.

As the horse had risen, Charles had succeeded in freeing his leg, and now raising himself heavily, he saw that he was dripping with blood, whereupon he became as pale as a corpse.

“Sire,” said Henry, who still knelt holding the boar pierced to the heart, “sire, it is nothing, I turned aside the teeth, and your Majesty is not hurt.”

Then he rose, let go the knife, and the boar fell back pouring forth more blood from its mouth than from its wound.

Charles, surrounded by a breathless crowd, assailed by cries of terror which would have dashed the greatest courage, was for a moment ready to fall on the dying animal. But he recovered himself and, turning toward the King of Navarre, he pressed his hand with a look in which shone the first spark of feeling that had been roused in his heart for twenty-four years.

“Thank you, Henriot!” said he.

“My poor brother!” cried D’Alençon, approaching Charles.

“Ah! it is you, D’Alençon, is it?” said the King. “Well, famous marksman that you are, what became of your ball?”

“It must have flattened itself against the boar,” said the duke.

“Well! my God!” exclaimed Henry, with admirably assumed surprise; “you see, François, your bullet has broken the leg of his Majesty’s horse. That is strange!”

“What!” said the King; “is that true?”

“It is possible,” said the duke terrified; “my hand shook so!”

“The fact is that for a clever marksman that was a strange thing to do, François!” said Charles frowning. “A second time, Henriot, I thank you!”

“Gentlemen,” continued the King, “let us return to Paris; I have had enough of this.”

Marguerite came up to congratulate Henry.

“Yes, indeed, Margot,” said Charles, “congratulate him, and sincerely too, for without him the King of France would be Henry III.”

“Alas, madame,” said the Béarnais, “Monsieur le Duc d’Anjou, who is already my enemy, will be angrier than ever at me. But what can you expect? One does what one can. Ask Monsieur d’Alençon.”

And bowing, he drew his knife from the wild boar’s body and dug it two or three times into the earth to wipe off the blood.

PART II.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dumas/alexandre_pere/marguerite-de-valois/chapter31.html

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