Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 36.

The Anagram.

The Rue Garnier sur l’Eau runs into the Rue Geoffroy Lasnier, and the Rue des Barres lies at right angles to the former.

On the right, a short distance down the Rue de la Mortellerie, stands a small house in the centre of a garden surrounded by a high wall, which has but one entrance. Charles drew a key from his pocket and inserted it into the lock. The gate was unbolted and immediately opened. Telling Henry and the lackey bearing the torch to enter, the King closed and locked the gate behind him.

Light came from one small window which Charles smilingly pointed out to Henry.

“Sire, I do not understand,” said the latter.

“But you will, Henriot.”

The King of Navarre looked at Charles in amazement. His voice and his face had assumed an expression of gentleness so different from usual that Henry scarcely recognized him.

“Henriot,” said the King, “I told you that when I left the Louvre I came out of hell. When I enter here I am in paradise.”

“Sire,” said Henry, “I am happy that your Majesty has thought me worthy of taking this trip to Heaven with you.”

“The road thither is a narrow one,” said the King, turning to a small stairway, “but nothing can be compared to it.”

“Who is the angel who guards the entrance to your Eden, sire?”

“You shall see,” replied Charles IX.

Signing to Henry to follow him noiselessly, he opened first one door, then another, and finally paused on a threshold.

“Look!” said he.

Henry approached and gazed on one of the most beautiful pictures he had ever seen.

A young woman of eighteen or nineteen lay sleeping, her head resting on the foot of a little bed in which a child was asleep. The woman held its little feet close to her lips, while her long hair fell over her shoulders like a flood of gold. It was like one of Albane’s pictures of the Virgin and the Child Jesus.

“Oh, sire,” said the King of Navarre, “who is this lovely creature?”

“The angel of my paradise, Henriot, the only one who loves me.”

Henry smiled.

“Yes,” said Charles, “for she loved me before she knew I was King.”

“And since she has known it?”

“Well, since she has known it,” said Charles, with a smile which showed that royalty sometimes weighed heavily on him, “since she has known it she loves me still; so you may judge.”

The King approached the woman softly and pressed a kiss as light as that which a bee gives to a lily on her rosy cheek.

Yet, light as it was, she awakened at once.

“Charles!” she murmured, opening her eyes.

“You see,” said the King, “she calls me Charles. The queen says ‘sire’!”

“Oh!” cried the young woman, “you are not alone, my King.”

“No, my sweet Marie, I wanted to bring you another king, happier than myself because he has no crown; more unhappy than I because he has no Marie Touchet. God makes compensation for everything.”

“Sire, is it the King of Navarre?” asked Marie.

“Yes, my child; come here, Henriot.” The King of Navarre drew near; Charles took him by the hand.

“See this hand, Marie,” said he, “it is the hand of a good brother and a loyal friend. Were it not for this hand”—

“Well, sire?”

“Well, had it not been for this hand today, Marie, our child would have no father.”

Marie uttered a cry, fell on her knees, and seizing Henry’s hand covered it with kisses.

“Very good, Marie, very good,” said Charles.

“What have you done to thank him, sire?”

“I have done for him what he did for me.”

Henry looked at Charles in astonishment.

“Some day you will know what I mean, Henriot; meanwhile come here and see.” He approached the bed, on which the child still slept.

“Ah!” said he, “if this little fellow were in the Louvre instead of here in this little house in the Rue des Barres, many things would be changed for the present as well as for the future perhaps.”13

13 Had this natural child, no other than the famous Duc d’Angoulême, who died in 1650, been legitimate, he would have supplanted Henry III., Henry IV., Louis XIII., and Louis XIV. What would he have given in place of them? The imagination gropes hopelessly about among the shadows of such a question.

“Sire,” said Marie, “if your Majesty is willing, I prefer him to stay here; he sleeps better.”

“Let us not disturb his slumber, then,” said the King; “it is so sweet to sleep when one does not dream!”

“Well, sire,” said Marie, pointing to a door opening out of the room.

“Yes, you are right, Marie,” said Charles IX., “let us have supper.”

“My well-beloved Charles,” said Marie, “you will ask the king your brother to excuse me, will you not?”

“Why?”

“For having dismissed our servants, sire,” continued Marie, turning to the King of Navarre; “you must know that Charles wants to be served by me alone.”

Ventre saint gris!” said Henry, “I should think so!”

Both men entered the dining-room. The mother, anxious and careful, laid a warm blanket over the little Charles, who, thanks to the sound sleep of childhood, so envied by his father, had not wakened.

Marie rejoined them.

“There are only two covers!” said the King.

“Permit me,” said Marie, “to serve your majesties.”

“Now,” said Charles, “this is where you cause me trouble, Henriot.”

“How so, sire?”

“Did you not hear?”

“Forgive me, Charles, forgive me.”

“Yes, I will forgive you. But sit here, near me, between us.”

“I will obey,” said Marie.

She brought a plate, sat down between the two kings, and served them.

“Is it not good, Henriot,” said Charles, “to have one place in the world in which one can eat and drink without needing any one to taste the meats and wines beforehand?”

“Sire,” said Henry, smiling, and by the smile replying to the constant fear in his own mind, “believe me, I appreciate your happiness more than any one.”

“And tell her, Henriot, that in order for us to live happily, she must not mingle in politics. Above all, she must not become acquainted with my mother.”

“Queen Catharine loves your Majesty so passionately that she would be jealous of any other love,” replied Henry, finding by a subterfuge the means of avoiding the dangerous confidence of the King.

“Marie,” said the latter, “I have brought you one of the finest and the wittiest men I know. At court, you see, and this is saying a great deal, he puts every one in the shade. I alone have clearly understood, not his heart, perhaps, but his mind.”

“Sire,” said Henry, “I am sorry that in exaggerating the one as you do, you mistrust the other.”

“I exaggerate nothing, Henriot,” said the King; “besides, you will be known some day.”

Then turning to the young woman:

“He makes delightful anagrams. Ask him to make one of your name. I will answer that he will do it.”

“Oh, what could you expect to find in the name of a poor girl like me? What gentle thought could there be in the letters with which chance spelled Marie Touchet?”

“Oh! the anagram from this name, sire,” said Henry, “is so easy that there is no great merit in finding it.”

“Ah! ah! it is already found,” said Charles. “You see — Marie.”

Henry drew his tablets from the pocket of his doublet, tore out a paper, and below the name Marie Touchet wrote Je charme tout. Then he handed the paper to the young woman.

“Truly,” she cried, “it is impossible!”

“What has he found?” asked Charles.

“Sire, I dare not repeat it.”

“Sire,” said Henry, “in the name Marie Touchet there is, letter for letter, by changing the ‘i’ into a ‘j,’ as is often done, Je charme tout.” (I charm all.)

“Yes,” exclaimed Charles, “letter for letter. I want this to be your motto, Marie, do you hear? Never was one better deserved. Thanks, Henriot. Marie, I will give it to you written in diamonds.”

The supper over, two o’clock struck from Notre–Dame.

“Now,” said Charles, “in return for this compliment, Marie, you will give the king an armchair, in which he can sleep until daybreak; but let it be some distance from us, because he snores frightfully. Then if you waken before I do, you will rouse me, for at six o’clock we have to be at the Bastille. Good-night, Henriot. Make yourself as comfortable as possible. But,” he added, approaching the King of Navarre and laying his hand on his shoulder, “for your life, Henry — do you hear? for your life — do not leave here without me, especially to return to the Louvre.”

Henry had suspected too many things in what still remained unexplained to him to disobey such advice. Charles IX. entered his room, and Henry, the sturdy mountaineer, settled himself in an armchair, in which he soon justified the precaution taken by his brother-inlaw in keeping at a distance.

At dawn he was awakened by Charles. As he had not undressed, it did not take him long to finish his toilet. The King was more happy and smiling than he ever was at the Louvre. The hours spent by him in that little house in the Rue des Barres were his hours of sunshine.

Both men went out through the sleeping-room. The young woman was still in bed. The child was asleep in its cradle. Both were smiling.

Charles looked at them for a moment with infinite tenderness.

Then turning to the King of Navarre:

“Henriot,” said he, “if you ever hear what I did for you last night, or if misfortune come to me, remember this child asleep in its cradle.”

Then kissing both mother and child on the forehead, without giving Henry time to question him:

“Good-by, my angels,” said he, and went out.

Henry followed, deep in thought. The horses were waiting for them at the Bastille, held by the gentlemen to whom Charles IX. had given the order.

Charles signed to Henry to mount, sprang into his own saddle, and riding through the garden of the Arbalite, followed the outside highways.

“Where are we going?” asked Henry.

“We are going to see if the Duc d’Anjou returned for Madame de Condé alone,” replied Charles, “and if there is as much ambition as love in his heart, which I greatly doubt.”

Henry did not understand the answer, but followed Charles in silence.

They reached the Marais, and as from the shadow of the palisades they could see all which at that time was called the Faubourg Saint Laurent, Charles pointed out to Henry through the grayish mist of the morning some men wrapped in great cloaks and wearing fur caps. They were on horseback, and rode ahead of a wagon which was heavily laden. As they drew near they became outlined more clearly, and one could see another man in a long brown cloak, his face hidden by a French hat, riding and talking with them.

“Ah! ah!” said Charles, smiling, “I thought so.”

“Well, sire,” said Henry, “if I am not mistaken, that rider in the brown cloak is the Duc d’Anjou.”

“Yes,” said Charles IX. “Turn out a little, Henriot, I do not want him to see us.”

“But,” asked Henry, “who are the men in gray cloaks with fur caps?”

“Those men,” said Charles, “are Polish ambassadors, and in that wagon is a crown. And now,” said he, urging his horse to a gallop, and turning into the road of the Porte du Temple, “come, Henriot, I have seen all that I wanted to see.”

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