Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 35.

A Night of Kings.

Charles IX. walked along with Henry leaning on his arm, followed by his four gentlemen and preceded by two torch-bearers.

“When I leave the Louvre,” said the poor King, “I feel a pleasure similar to that which comes to me when I enter a beautiful forest. I breathe, I live, I am free.”

Henry smiled.

“In that case,” said he, “your Majesty would be in your element among the mountains of the Béarn.”

“Yes, and I understand that you want to go back to them; but if you are very anxious to do so, Henriot,” added Charles, laughing, “my advice is to be careful, for my mother Catharine loves you so dearly that it is absolutely impossible for her to get along without you.”

“What does your Majesty plan to do this evening?” asked Henry, changing this dangerous conversation.

“I want to have you meet some one, Henriot, and you shall give me your opinion.”

“I am at your Majesty’s orders.”

“To the right! to the right! We will take the Rue des Barres.”

The two kings, followed by their escort, had passed the Rue de la Savonnerie, when in front of the Hôtel de Condé they saw two men, wrapped in large cloaks, coming out of a secret door which one of them noiselessly closed behind him.

“Oh! oh!” said the King to Henry, who as usual had seen everything, but had not spoken, “this deserves attention.”

“Why do you say that, sire?” asked the King of Navarre.

“It is not on your account, Henriot. You are sure of your wife,” added Charles with a smile; “but your cousin De Condé is not sure of his, or if so, he is making a mistake, the devil!”

“But how do you know, sire, that it is Madame de Condé whom these gentlemen have been visiting?”

“Instinct tells me. The fact that the men stood in the doorway without moving until they saw us; then the cut of the shorter one’s cloak — by Heaven! that would be strange!”

“What?”

“Nothing. An idea I had, that is all; let us go on.”

He walked up to the two men, who, seeing him, started to walk away.

“Hello, gentlemen!” cried the King; “stop!”

“Are you speaking to us?” asked a voice which made Charles and his companion tremble.

“Well, Henriot,” said Charles, “do you recognize the voice now?”

“Sire,” said Henry, “if your brother the Duc d’Anjou was not at La Rochelle, I would swear it was he speaking.”

“Well,” said Charles, “he is not at La Rochelle, that is all.”

“But who is with him?”

“Do you not recognize his companion?”

“No, sire.”

“Yet his figure is unmistakable. Wait, you shall see who he is — hello, there! I tell you,” cried the King, “do you not hear, by Heaven?”

“Are you the watch, that you order us to stop?” said the taller of the two men, freeing his arm from the folds of his cloak.

“Pretend that we are the watch,” said the King, “and stop when we tell you to do so.”

Leaning over to Henry’s ear, he added:

“Now you will see the volcano send forth its fire.”

“There are eight of you,” said the taller of the two men, this time showing not only his arm but his face, “but were you a hundred, pass on!”

“Ah! ah! the Duc de Guise!” said Henry.

“Ah! our cousin from Lorraine,” said the King; “at last you will meet! How fortunate!”

“The King!” cried the duke.

At these words the other man covered himself with his cloak and stood motionless, having first uncovered out of respect.

“Sire,” said the Duc de Guise, “I have just been paying a visit to my sister-inlaw, Madame de Condé.”

“Yes — and you brought one of your gentlemen with you? Which one?”

“Sire,” replied the duke, “your Majesty does not know him.”

“We will meet him, however,” said the King.

Walking up to the other figure, he signed to one of the lackeys to bring a torch.

“Pardon me, brother!” said the Duc d’Anjou, opening his cloak and bowing with poorly disguised anger.

“Ah! ah! Henry, is it you? But no, it is not possible, I am mistaken — my brother of Anjou would not have gone to see any one else before first calling on me. He knows that for royal princes, returning to the capital, Paris has but one entrance, the gate of the Louvre.”

“Pardon me, sire,” said the Duc d’Anjou; “I beg your Majesty to excuse my thoughtlessness.”

“Ah, yes!” replied the King, mockingly; “and what were you doing, brother, at the Hôtel de Condé?”

“Why,” said the King of Navarre in his sly way, “what your Majesty intimated just now.”

And leaning over to the King he ended his sentence in a burst of laughter.

“What is it?” asked the Duc de Guise, haughtily; for like every one else at court, he had a way of treating the poor King of Navarre very rudely, “why should I not go and see my sister-inlaw. Does not Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon visit his?”

Henry flushed slightly.

“What sister-inlaw?” asked Charles. “I know none except Queen Elizabeth.”

“Pardon, sire! it was your sister I should have said — Madame Marguerite, whom we saw pass in her litter as we came by here half an hour ago. She was accompanied by two courtiers who rode on either side of her.”

“Indeed!” said Charles. “What do you say to that, Henry?”

“That the Queen of Navarre is perfectly free to go where she pleases, but I doubt if she has left the Louvre.”

“Well, I am sure she did,” said the Duc de Guise.

“And I too,” said the Duc d’Anjou, “from the fact that the litter stopped in the Rue Cloche Percée.”

“Your sister-inlaw, not this one,” said Henry, pointing to the Hôtel de Condé, “but that one,” turning in the direction of the Hôtel de Guise, “must also be of the party, for we left them together, and, as you know, they are inseparable.”

“I do not know what your majesty means,” replied the Duc de Guise.

“On the contrary,” said the king, “nothing is simpler. That is why a courtier was riding at either side of the litter.”

“Well!” said the duke, “if there is any scandal concerning my sisters-inlaw, let us beg the King to withhold justice.”

“Well, by Heaven,” said Henry, “let us leave Madame de Condé and Madame de Nevers; the King is not anxious about his sister — and I have confidence in my wife.”

“No, no,” said Charles, “I want to make sure of it; but let us attend to the matter ourselves. The litter stopped in the Rue Cloche Percée, you say, cousin?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Do you know the house?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Well, let us go to it. And if in order to find out who is in it, it is necessary to burn it down, we will burn it.”

It was with this end in view, which was rather discouraging for the tranquillity of those concerned, that the four chief lords of the Christian world set out to the Rue Saint Antoine.

They reached the Rue Cloche Percée. Charles, who wished to work privately, dismissed the gentlemen of his suite, saying that they might have the rest of the night to themselves, but for them to be at the Bastille with two horses at six o’clock in the morning.

There were only three houses in the Rue Cloche Percée. The search was much less difficult as two of the buildings were perfectly willing to open their doors. One of the houses faced the Rue Saint Antoine and the other the Rue du Roi de Sicile.

As to the third house, that was a different matter. It was the one which was guarded by the German janitor, and this janitor was not easily managed. That night Paris seemed destined to offer memorable examples of conjugal fidelity. In vain did Monsieur de Guise threaten in his purest Saxon; in vain did Henry of Anjou offer a purse filled with gold; in vain Charles went so far as to say that he was lieutenant of the watch; the brave German paid attention neither to the statement, the offer, nor the threats. Seeing that they insisted, and in a way that was becoming importunate, he slipped the nose of a gun under the iron bars, a move which brought forth bursts of laughter from three of the four visitors. Henry of Navarre stood apart, as if the affair had no interest for him. But as the weapon could not be turned between the bars, it was scarcely dangerous for any except a blind man, who might stand directly in front of it.

Seeing that the porter was neither to be intimidated, bribed, nor persuaded, the Duc de Guise pretended to leave with his companions; but the retreat did not last long. At the corner of the Rue Saint Antoine the duke found what he sought. This was a rock similar in size to those which three thousand years before had been moved by Ajax, son of Telamon, and Diomed. The duke raised it to his shoulder and came back, signing to his companions to follow. Just then the janitor, who had seen those he took for malefactors depart, closed the door. But he had not time to draw the bolts before the Duc de Guise took advantage of the moment, and hurled his veritable living catapult against the door. The lock broke, carrying away a portion of the wall to which it had been fastened. The door sprang open, knocking down the German, who, in falling, gave a terrible cry. This cry awakened the garrison, which otherwise would have run great risk of being surprised.

At that moment La Mole and Marguerite were translating an idyl of Theocritus, and Coconnas, pretending that he too was a Greek, was drinking some strong wine from Syracuse with Henriette. The scientific and bacchanalian conversation was violently interrupted.

La Mole and Coconnas at once extinguished the candles, and opening the windows, sprang out on the balcony. Then perceiving four men in the darkness, they set to work to hurl at them everything they had at hand, in the meantime making a frightful noise with blows from the flat of their swords, which, however, struck nothing but the wall. Charles, the most infuriated of the besiegers, received a sharp blow on the shoulder, the Duc d’Anjou a bowl full of orange and lemon marmalade, and the Duc de Guise a leg of venison. Henry received nothing. He was downstairs questioning the porter, whom Monsieur de Guise had strapped to the door, and who continued to answer by his eternal “Ich verstehe nicht.” The women encouraged the besieged by handing them projectiles, which succeeded one another like hailstones.

“The devil!” exclaimed Charles IX., as a table struck his head, driving his hat over his eyes, “if they don’t open the door pretty soon I will have them all hanged.”

“My brother!” whispered Marguerite to La Mole.

“The King!” cried the latter to Henriette.

“The King! the King!” repeated Henriette to Coconnas, who was dragging a chest to the window, and who was trying to exterminate the Duc de Guise. Without knowing who the latter was he was having a private struggle with him.

“The King, I tell you,” repeated Henriette.

Coconnas let go of the chest and looked up in amazement.

“The King?” said he.

“Yes, the King.”

“Then let us hide.”

“Yes. La Mole and Marguerite have already fled. Come!”

“Where?”

“Come, I tell you.”

And seizing him by the hand, Henriette pushed Coconnas through the secret door which connected with the adjoining house, and all four, having locked this door behind them, escaped into the Rue Tizon.

“Oh! oh!” said Charles, “I think that the garrison has surrendered.”

They waited a few minutes. No sound reached the besiegers.

“They are preparing some ruse,” said the Duc de Guise.

“It is more likely that they have recognized my brother’s voice and have fled,” said the Duc d’Anjou.

“They would have to pass by here,” said Charles.

“Yes,” said the Duc d’Anjou, “unless the house has two exits.”

“Cousin,” said the King, “take up your stone again and hurl it against the other door as you did at this.”

The duke thought it unnecessary to resort to such means, and as he had noticed that the second door was not as solid as the first he broke it down by a simple kick.

“The torches! the torches!” cried the King.

The lackeys approached. The torches were out, but the men had everything necessary for relighting them. This was done. Charles IX. took one and handed the other to the Duc d’Anjou.

The Duc de Guise entered first, sword in hand.

Henry brought up the rear.

They reached the first floor.

In the dining-room the table was set or rather upset, for it was the supper which had furnished the projectiles. The candlesticks were overturned, the furniture topsy-turvy, and everything which was not silver plate lay in fragments.

They entered the reception-room, but found no more clue there than in the other room as to the identity of the revellers. Some Greek and Latin books and several musical instruments were all they saw.

The sleeping-room was more silent still. A night lamp burned in an alabaster globe suspended from the ceiling; but it was evident that the room had not been occupied.

“There is a second door,” said the King.

“Very likely,” said the Duc d’Anjou.

“But where is it?” asked the Duc de Guise.

They looked everywhere, but could not find it.

“Where is the janitor?” asked the King.

“I bound him to the gate,” said the Duc de Guise.

“Ask him, cousin.”

“He will not answer.”

“Bah! we will have a dry fire built around his legs,” said the King, laughing, “then he will speak.”

Henry glanced hurriedly out of the window.

“He is not there,” said he.

“Who untied him?” asked the Duc de Guise, quickly.

“The devil!” exclaimed the King, “and we know nothing as yet.”

“Well!” said Henry, “you see very clearly, sire, that there is nothing to prove that my wife and Monsieur de Guise’s sister-inlaw have been in this house.”

“That is so,” said Charles. “The Scriptures tell us that there are three things which leave no trace — the bird in the air, the fish in the sea, and the woman — no, I am wrong, the man, in”—

“So,” interrupted Henry, “what we had better do is”—

“Yes,” said Charles, “what we had better do is for me to look after my bruise, for you, D’Anjou, to wipe off your orange marmalade, and for you, De Guise, to get rid of the grease.” Thereupon they left without even troubling to close the door. Reaching the Rue Saint Antoine:

“Where are you bound for, gentlemen?” asked the King of the Duc d’Anjou and the Duc de Guise.

“Sire, we are going to the house of Nantouillet, who is expecting my Lorraine cousin and myself to supper. Will your Majesty come with us?”

“No, thanks, we are going in a different direction. Will you take one of my torch-bearers?”

“Thank you, no, sire,” said the Duc d’Anjou, hastily.

“Good; he is afraid I will spy on him,” whispered Charles to the King of Navarre.

Then taking the latter by the arm:

“Come, Henriot,” said he, “I will take you to supper to-night.”

“Are we not going back to the Louvre?” asked Henry.

“No, I tell you, you stupid! Come with me, since I tell you to come. Come!”

And he dragged Henry down the Rue Geoffroy Lasnier.

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