Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 4.

The Evening of the 24th of August, 1572.

Our readers have not forgotten that in the previous chapter we mentioned a gentleman named De la Mole whom Henry of Navarre was anxiously expecting.

This young gentleman, as the admiral had announced, entered Paris by the gate of Saint Marcel the evening of the 24th of August, 1572; and bestowing a contemptuous glance on the numerous hostelries that displayed their picturesque signs on either side of him, he spurred his steaming horse on into the heart of the city, and after having crossed the Place Maubert, Le Petit Pont, the Pont Notre–Dame, and skirted the quays, he stopped at the end of the Rue de Bresec, which we have since corrupted into the Rue de l’Arbre Sec, and for the greater convenience of our readers we will call by its modern name.

The name pleased him, no doubt, for he entered the street, and finding on his left a large sheet-iron plate swinging, creaking on its hinges, with an accompaniment of little bells, he stopped and read these words, “La Belle Étoile,” written on a scroll beneath the sign, which was a most attractive one for a famished traveller, as it represented a fowl roasting in the midst of a black sky, while a man in a red cloak held out his hands and his purse toward this new-fangled constellation.

“Here,” said the gentleman to himself, “is an inn that promises well, and the landlord must be a most ingenious fellow. I have always heard that the Rue de l’Arbre Sec was near the Louvre; and, provided that the interior answers to the exterior, I shall be admirably lodged.”

While the newcomer was thus indulging in this monologue another horseman who had entered the street at the other end, that is to say, by the Rue Saint–Honoré, stopped also to admire the sign of La Belle Étoile.

The gentleman whom we already know, at least by name, rode a white steed of Spanish lineage and wore a black doublet ornamented with jet; his cloak was of dark violet velvet; his boots were of black leather, and he had a sword and poniard with hilts of chased steel.

Now if we pass from his costume to his features we shall conclude that he was twenty-four or twenty-five years of age. His complexion was dark; his eyes were blue; he had a delicate mustache and brilliant teeth which seemed to light up his whole face when his exquisitely modelled lips parted in a sweet and melancholy smile.

The contrast between him and the second traveller was very striking. Beneath his cocked hat escaped a profusion of frizzled hair, red rather than brown; beneath this mop of hair sparkled a pair of gray eyes which at the slightest opposition grew so fierce that they seemed black; a fair complexion, thin lips, a tawny mustache, and admirable teeth completed the description of his face. Taken all in all, with his white skin, lofty stature, and broad shoulders, he was indeed a beau cavalier in the ordinary acceptation of the term, and during the last hour which he had employed in staring up at all the windows, under the pretext of looking for signs, he had attracted the general attention of women, while the men, though they may have felt inclined to laugh at his scanty cloak, his tight-fitting small-clothes, and his old-fashioned boots, checked their rising mirth with a most cordial Dieu vous garde, after they had more attentively studied his face, which every moment assumed a dozen different expressions, but never that good-natured one characteristic of a bewildered provincial.

He it was who first addressed the other gentleman who, as I have said, was gazing at the hostelry of La Belle Étoile.

“By Heaven! monsieur,” said he, with that horrible mountain accent which would instantly distinguish a native of Piedmont among a hundred strangers, “we are close to the Louvre, are we not? At all events, I think your choice is the same as mine, and I am highly flattered by it.”

“Monsieur,” replied the other, with a Provençal accent which rivalled that of his companion, “I believe this inn is near the Louvre. However, I am still deliberating whether or not I shall have the honor of sharing your opinion. I am in a quandary.”

“You have not yet decided, sir? Nevertheless, the house is attractive. But perhaps, after all, I have been won over to it by your presence. Yet you will grant that is a pretty painting?”

“Very! and it is for that very reason I mistrust it. Paris, I am told, is full of sharpers, and you may be just as well tricked by a sign as by anything else.”

“By Heaven!” replied the Piedmontese, “I don’t care a fig for their tricks; and if the host does not serve me a chicken as well roasted as the one on his sign, I will put him on the spit, nor will I let him off till I have done him to a turn. Come, let us go in.”

“You have decided me,” said the Provençal, laughing; “precede me, I beg.”

“Oh, sir, on my soul I could not think of it, for I am only your most obedient servant, the Comte Annibal de Coconnas.”

“And I, monsieur, but the Comte Joseph Hyacinthe Boniface de Lerac de la Mole, equally at your service.”

“Since that is the case, let us go in together, arm in arm.”

The result of this conciliatory proposition was that the two young men got off their horses, threw the bridles to the ostler, linked arms, adjusted their swords, and approached the door of the inn, where the landlord was standing. But contrary to the custom of men of his profession, the worthy proprietor seemed not to notice them, so busy was he talking with a tall, sallow man, wrapped in a drab-colored cloak like an owl buried in his feathers.

The two gentlemen were so near the landlord and his friend in the drab-colored cloak that Coconnas, indignant that he and his companion should be treated with such lack of consideration, touched the landlord’s sleeve.

He appeared suddenly to perceive them, and dismissed his friend with an “Au revoir! come soon and let me know the hour appointed.”

“Well, monsieur le drole,” said Coconnas, “do not you see we have business with you?”

“I beg pardon, gentlemen,” said the host; “I did not see you.”

“Eh, by Heaven! then you ought to have seen us; and now that you do see us, say, ‘Monsieur le Comte,’ and not merely ‘Monsieur,’ if you please.”

La Mole stood by, leaving Coconnas, who seemed to have undertaken the affair, to speak; but by the scowling on his face it was evident that he was ready to come to his assistance when the moment of action should present itself.

“Well, what is your pleasure, Monsieur le Comte?” asked the landlord, in a quiet tone.

“Ah, that’s better; is it not?” said Coconnas, turning to La Mole, who nodded affirmatively. “Monsieur le Comte and myself, attracted by the sign of your establishment, wish to sup and sleep here to-night.”

“Gentlemen,” said the host, “I am very sorry, but I have only one chamber, and I am afraid that would not suit you.”

“So much the better,” said La Mole; “we will go and lodge somewhere else.”

“By no means,” said Coconnas, “I shall stay here; my horse is tired. I will have the room, since you will not.”

“Ah! that is quite different,” replied the host, with the same cool tone of impertinence. “If there is only one of you I cannot lodge you at all, then.”

“By Heaven!” cried Coconnas, “here’s a witty animal! Just now you could not lodge us because we were two, and now you have not room for one. You will not lodge us at all, then?”

“Since you take this high tone, gentlemen, I will answer you frankly.”

“Answer, then; only answer quickly.”

“Well, then, I should prefer not to have the honor of lodging you at all.”

“For what reason?” asked Coconnas, growing white with rage.

“Because you have no servants, and for one master’s room full, I should have two servants’ rooms empty; so that, if I let you have the master’s room, I run the risk of not letting the others.”

“Monsieur de la Mole,” said Coconnas, “do you not think we ought to massacre this fellow?”

“Decidedly,” said La Mole, preparing himself, together with Coconnas, to lay his whip over the landlord’s back.

But the landlord contented himself with retreating a step or two, despite this two-fold demonstration, which was not particularly reassuring, considering that the two gentlemen appeared so full of determination.

“It is easy to see,” said he, in a tone of raillery, “that these gentlemen are just from the provinces. At Paris it is no longer the fashion to massacre innkeepers who refuse to let them rooms — only great men are massacred nowadays and not the common people; and if you make any disturbance, I will call my neighbors, and you shall be beaten yourselves, and that would be an indignity for two such gentlemen.”

“Why! he is laughing at us,” cried Coconnas, in a rage.

“Grégoire, my arquebuse,” said the host, with the same voice with which he would have said, “Give these gentleman a chair.”

Trippe del papa!” cried Coconnas, drawing his sword; “warm up, Monsieur de la Mole.”

“No, no; for while we warm up, our supper will get cold.”

“What, you think”— cried Coconnas.

“That Monsieur de la Belle Étoile is right; only he does not know how to treat his guests, especially when they are gentlemen, for instead of brutally saying, ‘Gentlemen, I do not want you,’ it would have been better if he had said, ‘Enter, gentlemen’— at the same time reserving to himself the right to charge in his bill, master’s room, so much; servants’ room, so much.”

With these words, La Mole gently pushed by the landlord, who was just on the point of taking his arquebuse, and entered with Coconnas.

“Well,” said Coconnas, “I am sorry to sheathe my sword before I have ascertained that it is as sharp as that rascal’s larding-needle.”

“Patience, my dear friend, patience,” said La Mole. “All the inns in Paris are full of gentlemen come to attend the King of Navarre’s marriage or attracted by the approaching war with Flanders; we should not find another lodging; besides, perhaps it is the custom at Paris to receive strangers in this manner.”

“By Heaven! how patient you are, Monsieur de la Mole!” muttered Coconnas, curling his red mustache with rage and hurling the lightning of his eyes on the landlord. “But let the scoundrel take care; for if his cooking be bad, if his bed be hard, his wine less than three years in bottle, and his waiter be not as pliant as a reed”—

“There! there! my dear gentleman!” said the landlord, whetting his knife on a strap, “you may make yourself easy; you are in the land of Cocagne.”

Then in a low tone he added:

“These are some Huguenots; traitors have grown so insolent since the marriage of their Béarnais with Mademoiselle Margot!”

Then, with a smile that would have made his guests shudder had they seen it:

“How strange it would be if I were just to have two Huguenots come to my house, when”—

“Now, then,” interrupted Coconnas, pointedly, “are we going to have any supper?”

“Yes, as soon as you please, monsieur,” returned the landlord, softened, no doubt, by the last reflection.

“Well, then, the sooner the better,” said Coconnas; and turning to La Mole:

“Pray, Monsieur le Comte, while they are putting our room in order, tell me, do you think Paris seems a gay city?”

“Faith! no,” said La Mole. “All the faces I have seen looked scared or forbidding; perhaps the Parisians also are afraid of the storm; see how very black the sky is, and the air feels heavy.”

“Tell me, count, are you not bound for the Louvre?”

“Yes! and you also, Monsieur de Coconnas.”

“Well, let us go together.”

“It is rather late to go out, is it not?” said La Mole.

“Early or late, I must go; my orders are peremptory —‘Come instantly to Paris, and report to the Duc de Guise without delay.’”

At the Duc de Guise’s name the landlord drew nearer.

“I think the rascal is listening to us,” said Coconnas, who, as a true son of Piedmont, was very truculent, and could not forgive the proprietor of La Belle Étoile his rude reception of them.

“I am listening, gentlemen,” replied he, taking off his cap; “but it is to serve you. I heard the great duke’s name mentioned, and I came immediately. What can I do for you, gentlemen?”

“Aha! that name is magical, since it renders you so polite. Tell me, maître — what’s your name?”

“Maître la Hurière,” replied the host, bowing.

“Well, Maître la Hurière, do you think my arm is lighter than the Duc de Guise’s, who makes you so civil?”

“No, Monsieur le Comte, but it is not so long,” replied La Hurière; “besides,” he added, “I must tell you that the great Henry is the idol of us Parisians.”

“Which Henry?” asked La Mole.

“It seems to me there is only one,” replied the landlord.

“You are mistaken; there is another, whom I desire you do not speak ill of, and that is Henry of Navarre; and then there is Henry de Condé, who has his share of merit.”

“I do not know them,” said the landlord.

“But I do; and as I am on my way to the King of Navarre, I desire you not to speak slightingly of him before me.”

The landlord replied by merely touching his cap, and continued to lavish his assiduities on Coconnas:

“So monsieur is going to see the great Duc de Guise? Monsieur is a very fortunate gentleman; he has come, no doubt, for”—

“What?” asked Coconnas.

“For the festivity,” replied the host, with a singular smile.

“You should say for the festivities,” replied Coconnas; “for Paris, I hear, runs riot with festivals; at least there is nothing talked about but balls, festivals, and orgies. Does not every one find plenty of amusement?”

“A moderate amount, but they will have more soon, I hope.”

“But the marriage of his majesty the King of Navarre has brought a great many people to Paris, has it not?” said La Mole.

“A great many Huguenots — yes,” replied La Hurière, but suddenly changing his tone:

“Pardon me, gentlemen,” said he, “perhaps you are of that religion?”

“I,” cried Coconnas, “I am as good a Catholic as the pope himself.”

La Hurière looked at La Mole, but La Mole did not or would not comprehend him.

“If you do not know the King of Navarre, Maître La Hurière,” said La Mole, “perhaps you know the admiral. I have heard he has some influence at court, and as I have letters for him, perhaps you will tell me where he lives, if his name does not take the skin off your lips.”

“He did live in the Rue de Béthizy down here at the right,” replied the landlord, with an inward satisfaction he could not conceal.

“He did live?” exclaimed La Mole. “Has he changed his residence?”

“Yes — from this world, perhaps.”

“What do you mean?” cried both the gentlemen together, “the admiral removed from this world?”

“What, Monsieur de Coconnas,” pursued the landlord, with a shrewd smile, “are you a friend of the Duc de Guise, and do not know that?”

“Know what?”

“That the day before yesterday, as the admiral was passing along the place Saint Germain l’Auxerrois before the house of the Canon Pierre Piles, he was fired at”—

“And killed?” said La Mole.

“No; he had his arm broken and two fingers taken off; but it is hoped the balls were poisoned.”

“How, wretch!” cried La Mole; “hoped?”

“Believed, I mean,” said the landlord, winking at Coconnas; “do not take a word too seriously, it was a slip of the tongue.”

And Maître La Hurière, turning his back on La Mole, poked out his tongue at Coconnas in the most insulting way, accompanying this action with a meaning wink.

“Really!” said Coconnas, joyfully.

“Really!” said La Mole, with sorrowful stupefaction.

“It is just as I have the honor of telling you, gentlemen,” said the landlord.

“In that case,” said La Mole, “I must go instantly to the Louvre. Shall I find the King of Navarre there?”

“Most likely, since he lives there.”

“And I,” said Coconnas, “must also go to the Louvre. Shall I find the Duc de Guise there?”

“Most likely; for only a moment ago I saw him pass with two hundred gentlemen.”

“Come, then, Monsieur de Coconnas,” said La Mole.

“I will follow you, sir,” replied Coconnas.

“But your supper, gentlemen!” cried La Hurière.

“Ah,” said La Mole, “I shall most likely sup with the King of Navarre.”

“And I,” said Coconnas, “with the Duc de Guise.”

“And I,” said the landlord, after having watched the two gentlemen on their way to the Louvre, “I will go and burnish my sallet, put a match to my arquebuse, and sharpen my partisan, for no one knows what may happen.”

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