Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 38.

The Girdle of the Queen Mother.

Charles entered his room, smiling and joking. But after a conversation of ten minutes with his mother, one would have said that the latter had given him her pallor and anger in exchange for the light-heartedness of her son.

“Monsieur de la Mole,” said Charles, “Monsieur de la Mole! Henry and the Duc d’Alençon must be sent for. Henry, because this young man was a Huguenot; the Duc d’Alençon, because he is in his service.”

“Send for them if you wish, my son, but you will learn nothing. Henry and François, I fear, are much more closely bound together than one would suppose from appearances. To question them is to suspect them. I think it would be better to wait for the slow but sure proof of time. If you give the guilty ones time to breathe again, my son, if you let them think they have escaped your vigilance, they will become bold and triumphant, and will give you a better opportunity to punish them. Then we shall know everything.”

Charles walked up and down, undecided, gnawing his anger, as a horse gnaws his bit, and pressing his clinched hand to his heart, which was consumed by his one idea.

“No, no,” said he, at length; “I will not wait. You do not know what it is to wait, beset with suspicions as I am. Besides, every day these courtiers become more insolent. Even last night did not two of them dare to cope with us? If Monsieur de la Mole is innocent, very good; but I should not be sorry to know where Monsieur de la Mole was last night, while they were attacking my guards in the Louvre, and me in the Rue Cloche Percée. So let the Duc d’Alençon be sent for, and afterwards Henry. I will question them separately. You may remain, mother.”

Catharine sat down. For a determined spirit such as hers was, every incident turned by her powerful hand would lead her to her goal, although it might seem to be leading away from it. From every blow there would result noise and a spark. The noise would guide, the spark give light.

The Duc d’Alençon entered. His previous conversation with Henry had prepared him for this interview; therefore he was quite calm.

His replies were very exact. Warned by his mother to remain in his own rooms, he was completely ignorant of the events of the night. But as his apartments opened upon the same corridor as did those of the King of Navarre, he had at first thought he heard a sound like that of a door being broken in, then curses, then pistol-shots. Thereupon he had ventured to push his door partly open, and had seen a man in a red cloak running away.

Charles and his mother exchanged glances.

“In a red cloak?” said the King.

“In a red cloak,” replied D’Alençon.

“And did you have any suspicions regarding this red cloak?”

D’Alençon rallied all his strength that he might lie as naturally as possible.

“At first sight,” said he, “I must confess to your Majesty that I thought I recognized the red cloak of one of my gentlemen.”

“What is the name of this gentleman?”

“Monsieur de la Mole.”

“Why was not Monsieur de la Mole with you as his duty required him to be?”

“I had given him leave of absence,” said the duke.

“That is well; now you may go,” said Charles.

The Duc d’Alençon started towards the door by which he had entered.

“Not that way,” said Charles; “this way.”

And he indicated the door opening into his nurse’s room. Charles did not want François and Henry to meet.

He did not know that they had already seen each other for an instant, and that this instant had sufficed for the two brothers-inlaw to agree on their plans.

At a sign from Charles, Henry entered.

He did not wait for Charles to question him, however.

“Sire,” said he, “your Majesty has done well to send for me, for I was just coming to demand justice of you.”

Charles frowned.

“Yes, justice,” said Henry. “I will begin by thanking your Majesty for having taken me with you last night; for, by doing this, I now know that you saved my life. But what had I done that an attempt should be made to assassinate me?”

“Not to assassinate,” said Catharine, quickly, “but to arrest you.”

“Well,” said Henry, “even so. What crime have I committed to merit arrest? If I am guilty I am as much so this morning as I was last evening. Tell me my offence, sire.”

Embarrassed as to what reply to make, Charles looked at his mother.

“My son,” said Catharine, “you receive suspicious characters.”

“Very good,” said Henry, “and these suspicious characters compromise me; is that it, madame?”

“Yes, Henry.”

“Give me their names! Give me their names! Who are they? Let me see them!”

“Really,” said Charles, “Henriot has the right to demand an explanation.”

“And I do demand it!” said Henry, realizing the superiority of his position and anxious to make the most of it. “I ask it from my good brother Charles, and from my good mother Catharine. Since my marriage with Marguerite have I not been a kind husband? ask Marguerite. A good Catholic? ask my confessor. A good relative? ask those who were at the hunt yesterday.”

“Yes, that is true, Henriot,” said the King; “but what can you do? They claim that you conspire.”

“Against whom?”

“Against me.”

“Sire, if I had been conspiring against you, I had merely to let events take their course, when your horse broke his knee and could not rise, or when the furious boar turned on your Majesty.”

“Well, the devil! mother, do you know that he is right?”

“But who was in your rooms last night?”

“Madame,” said Henry, “in times when so few dare to answer for themselves, I should never attempt to answer for others. I left my rooms at seven o’clock in the evening, at ten o’clock my brother Charles took me away, and I spent the night with him. I could not be with your Majesty and know what was going on in my rooms at the same time.”

“But,” said Catharine, “it is none the less true that one of your men killed two of his Majesty’s guards and wounded Monsieur de Maurevel.”

“One of my men?” said Henry. “What man, madame? Name him.”

“Every one accuses Monsieur de la Mole.”

“Monsieur de la Mole is not in my suite, madame; Monsieur de la Mole belongs to Monsieur d’Alençon, to whom he was recommended by your daughter.”

“But,” said Charles, “was it Monsieur de la Mole who was in your rooms, Henriot?”

“How can you expect me to know, sire? I can say neither yes nor no. Monsieur de la Mole is an exceptional servant, thoroughly devoted to the Queen of Navarre. He often brings me messages, either from Marguerite, to whom he is grateful for having recommended him to Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon, or from Monsieur le Duc himself. I cannot say that it was not Monsieur de la Mole”—

“It was he,” said Catharine. “His red cloak was recognized.”

“Has Monsieur de la Mole a red cloak, then?”

“Yes.”

“And the man who so cleverly disposed of two of my guards and Monsieur de Maurevel”—

“Had a red cloak?” asked Henry.

“Exactly,” said Charles.

“I have nothing to say,” said the Béarnais. “But in any case it seems to me that instead of summoning me here, since I was not in my rooms, it is Monsieur de la Mole, who, having been there, as you say, should be questioned. But,” said Henry, “I must observe one thing to your Majesty.”

“What is that?”

“This, that if I had seen an order signed by my King and had defended myself instead of obeying this order, I should be guilty and should deserve all sorts of punishment; but it was not I but some stranger whom this order in no way concerned. There was an attempt made to arrest him unjustly, he defended himself too well, perhaps, but he was in the right.”

“And yet”— murmured Catharine.

“Madame,” said Henry, “was the order to arrest me?”

“Yes,” said Catharine, “and his Majesty himself signed it.”

“Was it an order to arrest any one found in my place in case I was not there?”

“No,” said Catharine.

“Well!” said Henry, “unless you prove that I was conspiring and that the man who was in my rooms was conspiring with me, this man is innocent.”

Then turning to Charles IX.:

“Sire,” continued Henry, “I shall not leave the Louvre. At a simple word from your Majesty I shall even be ready to enter any state prison you may be pleased to suggest. But while waiting for the proof to the contrary I have the right to call myself and I do call myself the very faithful servant, subject, and brother of your Majesty.”

And with a dignity hitherto unknown in him, Henry bowed to Charles and withdrew.

“Bravo, Henriot!” said Charles, when the King of Navarre had left.

“Bravo! because he has defeated us?” said Catharine.

“Why should I not applaud? When we fence together and he touches me do I not say ‘bravo’? Mother, you are wrong to hate this boy as you do.”

“My son,” said Catharine, pressing the hand of Charles IX., “I do not hate him, I fear him.”

“Well, you are wrong, mother. Henriot is my friend, and as he said, had he been conspiring against me he had only to let the wild boar alone.”

“Yes,” said Catharine, “so that Monsieur le Duc d’Anjou, his personal enemy, might be King of France.”

“Mother, whatever Henriot’s motive in saving my life, the fact is that he saved it, and, the devil! I do not want any harm to come to him. As to Monsieur de la Mole, well, I will talk about him with my brother D’Alençon, to whom he belongs.”

This was Charles IX.‘s way of dismissing his mother, who withdrew endeavoring to fix her suspicions. On account of his unimportance, Monsieur de la Mole did not answer to her needs.

Returning to her rooms, Catharine found Marguerite waiting for her.

“Ah! ah!” said she, “is it you, my daughter? I sent for you last evening.”

“I know it, madame, but I had gone out.”

“And this morning?”

“This morning, madame, I have come to tell your majesty that you are about to do a great wrong.”

“What is that?”

“You are going to have Monsieur le Comte de la Mole arrested.”

“You are mistaken, my daughter, I am going to have no one arrested. It is the King, not I, who gives orders for arrests.”

“Let us not quibble over the words, madame, when the circumstances are serious. Monsieur de la Mole is going to be arrested, is he not?”

“Very likely.”

“Accused of having been found in the chamber of the King of Navarre last night, and of having killed two guards and wounded Monsieur de Maurevel?”

“Such indeed is the crime they impute to him.”

“They impute it to him wrongly, madame,” said Marguerite; “Monsieur de la Mole is not guilty.”

“Monsieur de la Mole not guilty!” said Catharine, giving a start of joy, and thinking that what Marguerite was about to tell her would throw light on the subject.

“No,” went on Marguerite, “he is not guilty, he cannot be so, for he was not in the king’s room.”

“Where was he, then?”

“In my room, madame.”

“In your room?”

“Yes, in my room.”

At this avowal from a daughter of France, Catharine felt like hurling a withering glance at Marguerite, but she merely crossed her arms on her lap.

“And,” said she after a moment’s silence, “if Monsieur de la Mole is arrested and questioned”—

“He will say where he was and with whom he was, mother,” replied Marguerite, although she felt sure of the contrary.

“Since this is so, you are right, my daughter; Monsieur de la Mole must not be arrested.”

Marguerite shivered. It seemed to her that there was something strange and terrible in the way her mother uttered these words; but she had nothing to say, for what she had come to ask for had been granted her.

“But,” said Catharine, “if it was not Monsieur de la Mole who was in the king’s room, it was some one else!”

Marguerite was silent.

“Do you know who it was, my daughter?” said Catharine.

“No, mother,” said Marguerite, in an unsteady voice.

“Come, do not be half confidential.”

“I repeat, madame, that I do not know,” replied Marguerite again, growing pale in spite of herself.

“Well, well,” said Catharine, carelessly, “we shall find out. Go now, my daughter. You may rest assured that your mother will watch over your honor.”

Marguerite went out.

“Ah!” murmured Catharine, “they are in league. Henry and Marguerite are working together. While the wife is silent, the husband is blind. Ah, you are very clever, my children, and you think yourselves very strong. But your strength is in your union and I will break you, one after the other. Besides, the day will come when Maurevel can speak or write, utter a name, or spell six letters, and then we shall know everything. Yes, but in the meantime the guilty shall be in safe-keeping. The best thing to do would be to separate them at once.”

Thereupon Catharine set out for the apartments of her son, whom she found holding a conference with D’Alençon.

“Ah! ah!” exclaimed Charles IX., frowning, “is it you, mother?”

“Why did you not say ‘again’? The word was in your mind, Charles.”

“What is in my mind belongs to me, madame,” said the King, in the rough tone he sometimes used even when speaking to Catharine. “What do you want of me? Tell me quickly.”

“Well, you were right, my son,” said Catharine to Charles, “and you, D’Alençon, were wrong.”

“In what respect, madame?” asked both princes.

“It was not Monsieur de la Mole who was in the apartments of the King of Navarre.”

“Ah! ah!” cried François, growing pale.

“Who was it, then?” asked Charles.

“We do not know yet, but we shall know when Maurevel is able to speak. So let us drop the subject, which will soon be explained, and return to Monsieur de la Mole.”

“Well, what do you want of Monsieur de la Mole, mother, since he was not in the rooms of the King of Navarre?”

“No,” said Catharine, “he was not there, but he was with — the queen.”

“With the queen!” cried Charles, bursting into a nervous laugh.

“With the queen,” murmured D’Alençon, turning as pale as death.

“No, no,” said Charles, “De Guise told me he had met Marguerite’s litter.”

“Yes,” said Catharine, “she has a house in town.”

“In the Rue Cloche Percée!” cried the King.

“Oh! oh! this is too much,” said D’Alençon, driving his nails into his breast. “And to have had him recommended to me!”

“Ah! now that I think of it!” said the King, stopping suddenly, “it was he who defended himself against us last night, and who hurled the silver bowl at my head, the wretch!”

“Oh, yes!” repeated François, “the wretch!”

“You are right, my children,” said Catharine, without appearing to understand the feelings which incited both of her sons to speak. “You are right, for a single indiscreet act of this gentleman might cause a horrible scandal, and ruin a daughter of France. One moment of madness would be enough for that.”

“Or of vanity,” said François.

“No doubt, no doubt,” said Charles. “And yet we cannot bring the case into court unless Henriot consents to appear as plaintiff.”

“My son,” said Catharine, placing her hand on Charles’s shoulder in such a way as to call the King’s attention to what she was about to propose, “listen to what I say. A crime has been committed, and there may be scandal. But this sort of offence to royalty is not punished by judges and hangmen. If you were simple gentlemen, I should have nothing to say to you, for you are both brave, but you are princes, you cannot cross swords with mere country squires. Think how you can avenge yourselves as princes.”

“The devil!” cried Charles, “you are right, mother, and I will consider it.”

“I will help you, brother,” cried François.

“And I,” said Catharine, unfastening the black silk girdle which was wound three times about her waist, and the two tassels of which fell to her knees. “I will retire, but I leave you this to represent me.”

And she threw the girdle at the feet of the two princes.

“Ah! ah!” said Charles, “I understand.”

“This girdle”— said D’Alençon, picking it up.

“Is punishment and silence,” said Catharine, victorious; “but,” she added, “there would be no harm in mentioning this to Henry.”

She withdrew.

“By Heaven!” said D’Alençon; “a good idea, and when Henry knows that his wife has betrayed him — So,” he added, turning to the King, “you will adopt our mother’s suggestion?”

“In every detail,” said Charles, not doubting but that he would drive a thousand daggers into D’Alençon’s heart. “This will annoy Marguerite, but it will delight Henriot.”

Then, calling one of his guards, he ordered Henry summoned, but thinking better of it:

“No, no,” said he, “I will go for him myself. Do you, D’Alençon, inform D’Anjou and De Guise.”

Leaving his apartments, he ascended the private stairway to the second floor, which led to Henry’s chamber.

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