Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 42.

Confidences.

The first thing the Duc d’Anjou heard on arriving at the Louvre was that the formal reception of the ambassadors was arranged for the fifth day from that. The tailors and the jewellers were waiting for the prince with magnificent clothes and superb jewels which the King had ordered for him.

While the duke tried them on with an anger which brought the tears to his eyes, Henry of Navarre was very gay in a magnificent collar of emeralds, a sword with a gold handle, and a precious ring which Charles had sent him that morning.

D’Alençon had just received a letter and had shut himself up in his own room to read it.

As to Coconnas, he was searching every corner of the Louvre for his friend.

In fact, as may easily be imagined, he had been somewhat surprised at not seeing La Mole return that night, and by morning had begun to feel some anxiety.

Consequently he had started out to find his friend. He began his search at the Hôtel de la Belle Étoile, went from there to the Rue Cloche Percée, from the Rue Cloche Percée to the Rue Tizon, from there to the Pont Saint Michel, and finally from the Pont Saint Michel to the Louvre. This search, so far as those who had been questioned were concerned, had been carried on in a way so original and exacting (which may easily be believed when one realizes the eccentric character of Coconnas) that it had caused some explanations between him and three courtiers. These explanations had ended, as was the fashion of the times, on the ground. In these encounters Coconnas had been as conscientious as he usually was in affairs of that kind, and had killed the first man and wounded the two others, saying:

“Poor La Mole, he knew Latin so well!”

The last victim, who was the Baron de Boissey, said as he fell:

“Oh, for the love of Heaven, Coconnas, do vary a little and at least say that he knew Greek!”

At last the report of the adventure in the corridor leaked out. Coconnas was heartbroken over it; for an instant he thought that all these kings and princes had killed his friend and thrown him into some dungeon.

He learned that D’Alençon had been of the party; and overlooking the majesty which surrounded a prince of the blood, he went to him and demanded an explanation as he would have done of a simple gentleman.

At first D’Alençon was inclined to thrust out of the door the impertinent fellow who came and asked for an account of his actions. But Coconnas spoke so curtly, his eyes flashed with such brightness, and the affair of the three duels in less than twenty-four hours had raised the Piedmontese so high, that D’Alençon reflected, and instead of yielding to his first inclination, he answered the gentleman with a charming smile:

“My dear Coconnas, it is true that the King was furious at receiving a silver bowl on his shoulder, that the Duc d’Anjou was vexed at being hit on the head by some orange marmalade, and the Duc de Guise humiliated at having the breath knocked out of him by a haunch of venison, and so they were all determined to kill Monsieur de la Mole. But a friend of your friend’s turned aside the blow. The party therefore failed in their attempt. I give you my word as prince.”

“Ah!” said Coconnas, breathing as hard as a pair of bellows. “By Heaven, monseigneur, this is good news, and I should like to know this friend to show him my gratitude.”

Monsieur d’Alençon made no reply, but smiled more pleasantly than he had yet done, implying to Coconnas that this friend was none other than the prince himself.

“Well, monseigneur!” said Coconnas, “since you have gone so far as to tell me the beginning of the story, crown your kindness by finishing it. They tried to kill him, but failed, you say. Well, what happened then? I am brave and can bear the news. Have they thrown him into some dungeon? So much the better. It will make him more careful in future. He never would listen to my advice; besides, we can get him out, by Heaven! Stone does not baffle every one.”

D’Alençon shook his head.

“The worst of all this, my brave Coconnas,” said he, “is that your friend disappeared after the affair, and no one knows where he went.”

“By Heaven!” cried the Piedmontese, again growing pale, “had he gone to hell I should at least have known where he is.”

“Listen,” said D’Alençon, who, although for different reasons, was as anxious as Coconnas to know La Mole’s whereabouts, “I will give you the advice of a friend.”

“Give it, my lord,” said Coconnas, eagerly.

“Go to Queen Marguerite. She must know what has become of the friend you mourn.”

“I will confess to your highness,” said Coconnas, “that I had thought of going to her, but I scarcely dared. Madame Marguerite has a way of making me feel somewhat uncomfortable at times, and besides this, I feared that I might find her in tears. But since your highness assures me that La Mole is not dead and that her majesty knows where he is I will take heart and go to her.”

“Do so, my friend,” said François. “And when you find out where La Mole is, let me know, for really I am as anxious as you are. But remember one thing, Coconnas”—

“What?”

“Do not say you have come at my suggestion, for if you do you will learn nothing.”

“Monseigneur,” said Coconnas, “since your highness recommends secrecy on this point, I shall be as silent as a tench or as the queen mother.”

“What a kind, good, generous prince he is!” murmured Coconnas as he set out to find the Queen of Navarre.

Marguerite was expecting Coconnas, for the report of his despair had reached her, and on hearing by what exploits his grief had showed itself she almost forgave him for his somewhat rude treatment of her friend Madame la Duchesse de Nevers, to whom he had not spoken for two or three days, owing to some misunderstanding between them. Therefore as soon as he was announced to the queen he was admitted.

Coconnas entered the room, unable to overcome the constraint which he had mentioned to D’Alençon, and which he had always felt in the presence of the queen. It was caused more by her superior intellect than by her rank. But Marguerite received him with a smile which at once put him at his ease.

“Ah, madame,” said he, “give me back my friend, I beg you, or at least tell me what has become of him, for without him I cannot live. Imagine Euryalus without Nisus, Damon without Pythias, or Orestes without Pylades, and pity my grief for the sake of one of the heroes I have just mentioned, whose heart, I swear, was no more tender than mine.”

Marguerite smiled, and having made Coconnas promise not to reveal the secret, she told him of La Mole’s escape from the window. As to his hiding-place, insistent as were the prayers of the Piedmontese, she preserved the strictest silence. This only half satisfied Coconnas, so he resorted to diplomatic speeches of the highest order.

The result was that Marguerite saw clearly that the Duc d’Alençon was partly the cause of the courtier’s great desire to know what had become of La Mole.

“Well,” said the queen, “if you must know something definite about your friend, ask King Henry of Navarre. He alone has the right to speak. As to me, all I can tell you is that the friend for whom you are searching is alive, and you may believe what I say.”

“I believe one thing still more, madame,” replied Coconnas; “that is, that your beautiful eyes have not wept.”

Thereupon, thinking that there was nothing to add to a remark which had the double advantage of expressing his thought as well as the high opinion he had of La Mole, Coconnas withdrew, pondering on a reconciliation with Madame de Nevers, not on her account, but in order that he might find out from her what he had been unable to learn from Marguerite.

Deep griefs are abnormal conditions in which the mind shakes off the yoke as soon as possible. The thought of leaving Marguerite had at first broken La Mole’s heart, and it was in order to save the reputation of the queen rather than to preserve his own life that he had consented to run away.

Therefore, the following evening he returned to Paris to see Marguerite from her balcony. As if instinct told her of the young man’s plan, the queen spent the whole evening at her window. The result was that the lovers met again with the indescribable delight which accompanies forbidden pleasures. More than this, the melancholy and romantic temperament of La Mole found a certain charm in the situation. But a man really in love is happy only for the time being, while he sees or is with the woman he loves. After he has left her he suffers. Anxious to see Marguerite again, La Mole set himself busily to work to bring about the event which would make it possible for him to be with her; namely, the flight of the King of Navarre.

Marguerite on her part willingly gave herself up to the happiness of being loved with so pure a devotion. Often she was angry with herself for what she regarded as a weakness. Her strong mind despised the poverty of ordinary love, insensible to the details which for tender souls make it the sweetest, the most delicate, and the most desirable of all pleasures. So she felt that the days, if not happily filled, were at least happily ended. When, at about nine o’clock every evening, she stepped out on her balcony in a white dressing-gown, she perceived in the darkness of the quay a horseman whose hand was raised first to his lips, then to his heart. Then a significant cough reminded the lover of a cherished voice. Sometimes a note was thrown by a little hand, and in the note was hidden some costly jewel, precious not on account of its value, but because it had belonged to her who threw it; and this would fall on the pavement a few feet from the young man. Then La Mole would swoop down on it like a kite, press it to his heart, answer in the same voice, while Marguerite stood at her balcony until the sound of the horse’s hoofs had died away in the darkness. The steed, ridden at full speed when coming, on leaving seemed as if made of material as lifeless as that of the famous horse which lost Troy.

This was why the queen was not anxious as to the fate of La Mole. But fearing that he might be watched and followed she persistently refused all interviews except these clandestine ones, which began immediately after La Mole’s flight and continued every evening until the time set for the formal reception of the ambassadors, a reception which by the express orders of Ambroise Paré, as we have seen, was postponed for several days.

The evening before this reception, at about nine o’clock, when every one in the Louvre was engaged in preparations for the following day, Marguerite opened her window and stepped out upon her balcony. As she did so, without waiting for her note, La Mole, in greater haste than usual, threw his note which with his usual skill fell at the feet of his royal mistress.

Marguerite realized that the missive contained something special, and retired from the balcony to read it. The note consisted of two separate sheets.

On the first page were these words:

Madame, I must speak to the King of Navarre. The matter is urgent. I will wait.

On the second page were these words:

My lady and my queen, arrange so that I may give you one of the kisses I now send you. I will wait.

Marguerite had scarcely finished the second part of the letter when she heard the voice of Henry of Navarre, who with his usual caution had knocked on the outer door, and was asking Gillonne if he might enter.

The queen at once separated the letter, put one of the sheets in her robe, the other in her pocket, hurriedly closed the window, and stepped to the door.

“Enter, sire,” said she.

Notwithstanding the fact that Marguerite had been careful to close the window quickly and gently, the sound had reached Henry, whose acute senses, in the midst of people he greatly mistrusted, had almost acquired the exquisite delicacy they attain in the savage. But the King of Navarre was not one of those tyrants who forbid their wives from taking the air and watching the stars.

Henry was as gracious and smiling as ever.

“Madame,” said he, “while every one is rehearsing the coming ceremonial, I thought I would come and have a little talk with you about my affairs, which you still regard as yours, do you not?”

“Certainly, monsieur,” replied Marguerite; “are not our interests one and the same?”

“Yes, madame, and that is why I wanted to ask what you thought about Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon’s avoiding me so for the last few days. The day before yesterday he even went to Saint Germain. Does it not mean either that he is planning to leave by himself, for he is watched very little, or that he is not going to leave at all? Give me your opinion, madame, if you please. I confess it will be a great relief to me to tell you mine.”

“Your majesty is right in being anxious at my brother’s silence. I have been thinking about it all day, and my idea is that as circumstances have changed he has changed with them.”

“You mean, do you not, that seeing King Charles ill and the Duc d’Anjou King of Poland he would not be averse to staying in Paris to keep watch over the crown of France?”

“Exactly.”

“Be it so. I ask nothing better than for him to remain,” said Henry; “only that will change our entire plan. To leave without him I shall need three times the guarantees I should have asked for had I gone with your brother, whose name and presence in the enterprise would have been my safeguard. But what surprises me is that I have not heard from Monsieur de Mouy. It is not like him to stay away so long. Have you had any news of him, madame?”

“I, sire!” exclaimed Marguerite, in astonishment; “why, how could you expect”—

“Why, by Heaven, my dear, nothing would be more natural. In order to please me, you were kind enough to save the life of young La Mole — he must have reached Nantes — and if one can get to a place he can easily get away from it.”

“Ah! this explains an enigma, the answer to which I could not make out,” said Marguerite. “I had left my window open, and found, on coming back to my room, a note on my floor.”

“There now,” said Henry.

“A note which at first I could not understand, and to which I attached no importance whatsoever,” continued Marguerite. “Perhaps I was wrong, and that it comes from that quarter.”

“That is possible,” said Henry; “I might even say probable. Might I see this note?”

“Certainly, sire,” replied Marguerite, handing to the king the missive she had put into her pocket. The king glanced at it.

“Is it not Monsieur de la Mole’s handwriting?” said he.

“I do not know,” replied Marguerite. “It looks to me like a counterfeit.”

“No matter, let us read it.” And he read:

Madame, I must speak to the King of Navarre. The matter is urgent. I will wait.

“So!” said Henry —“you see, he says he will wait.”

“Certainly I see that,” said Marguerite. “But what would you expect?”

“Why! ventre saint gris! I expect that he is waiting!”

“That he is waiting!” cried Marguerite, looking at her husband in astonishment. “How can you say such a thing, sire? A man whom the King tried to kill — a man who is watched, threatened — waiting, you say! Would that be possible? — are the doors made for those who have been”—

“Obliged to escape by the window — you were going to say?”

“Yes, you have finished my sentence.”

“Well, but if they know the way by the window, let them take it, since it is perfectly impossible for them to enter by the door. It is very simple.”

“Do you think so?” said Marguerite, flushing with pleasure at the thought of again being near La Mole.

“I am sure of it.”

“But how could one reach the window?” asked the queen.

“Did you not keep the rope ladder I sent you? Where is your usual foresight?”

“Yes, sire, I kept it,” said Marguerite.

“In that case there will be no difficulty,” said Henry.

“What does your majesty wish?”

“Why, it is very simple,” said Henry. “Fasten it to your balcony and let it hang down. If it is De Mouy who is waiting and he wants to mount it, he will do so.”

Without losing his gravity Henry took the candle to aid Marguerite in her search for the ladder. They did not have to look long; it was in a wardrobe in the famous closet.

“There it is,” said Henry; “now, madame, if I am not asking too much, fasten it to the balcony, I beg you.”

“Why should I fasten it and not you, sire?” said Marguerite.

“Because the best conspirators are the most careful. Seeing a man might perhaps frighten away our friend, you see.” Marguerite smiled and tied the ladder.

“There,” said Henry, concealing himself in a corner of the room, “stand so he can see you; now drop the ladder; good! I am sure that De Mouy will climb up.”

In fact, about ten minutes later a man, mad with joy, stepped over the balcony, but seeing that the queen did not come to him, he hesitated a moment. Instead of Marguerite it was Henry who stepped forward.

“Ah!” said he, graciously, “it is not De Mouy, but Monsieur de la Mole. Good evening, Monsieur de la Mole. Come in, I beg you.”

La Mole paused a moment, overwhelmed. Had he still been on the ladder instead of on the balcony he might possibly have fallen backward.

“You wanted to speak to the King of Navarre on matters of importance,” said Marguerite. “I have told him so and here he is.”

Henry closed the window.

“I love you,” said Marguerite, hastily pressing the young man’s hand.

“Well, monsieur,” said Henry, placing a chair for La Mole, “what is it?”

“This, sire,” replied La Mole. “I have left Monsieur de Mouy at the city gates. He desires to know if Maurevel has spoken, and if his presence in your majesty’s room is known.”

“Not yet, but it will be before long; so we must make haste.”

“That is my opinion, sire, and if tomorrow evening Monsieur d’Alençon is ready to start, De Mouy will be at the Porte Saint Marcel with five hundred men. These will take you to Fontainebleau. Then you can easily reach Blois, Angoulême, and Bordeaux.”

“Madame,” said Henry, turning to his wife, “I can be ready by tomorrow; can you?”

La Mole’s eyes were anxiously fixed on those of Marguerite.

“You have my promise,” said the queen. “Wherever you go, I will follow. But you know Monsieur d’Alençon must leave at the same time. No half way with him; either he serves us or he betrays us. If he hesitates we do not stir.”

“Does he know anything of this plan, Monsieur de la Mole?” asked Henry.

“He should have received a letter from Monsieur de Mouy several days ago.”

“Why,” said Henry, “he said nothing to me about it!”

“Be careful, monsieur,” said Marguerite, “be careful.”

“I shall be on my guard, you may be sure. How can we get an answer to De Mouy?”

“Do not worry, sire. On the right, on the left, of your majesty, visible or invisible, he will be on hand tomorrow during the reception of the ambassadors. One word in the address of the queen will suffice for him to understand whether you consent or not, whether he must leave or wait for you. If the Duc d’Alençon refuses, he asks but a fortnight to reorganize everything in your name.”

“Really,” said Henry, “De Mouy is invaluable. Can you insert the necessary words in your address, madame?”

“Nothing will be easier,” replied Marguerite.

“Then I will see Monsieur d’Alençon tomorrow,” said Henry. “Let de Mouy be at his post ready to understand at a word.”

“He will be there, sire.”

“And, Monsieur de la Mole,” said Henry, “take my answer to him. You probably have a horse or a servant near by?”

“Orthon is waiting for me at the quay.”

“Go back to him, monsieur. Oh, no, not by the window, which is good only for an emergency. You might be seen, and as it would not be known that you had taken this risk for me, it might compromise the queen.”

“How shall I leave, sire?”

“Although you may not be able to enter the Louvre by yourself, you can at least leave it with me, for I have the password. You have your cloak, I have mine; we will put them on and can pass the gate without difficulty. Besides, I shall be glad to give some special orders to Orthon. Wait here while I go and see if there is any one in the corridor.”

With the most natural air possible Henry went out to investigate. La Mole was left alone with the queen.

“Ah! when shall I see you again?” said he.

“To-morrow evening, if we leave. Otherwise some evening soon in the Rue Cloche Percée.”

“Monsieur de la Mole,” said Henry, returning, “you can come; there is no one here.”

La Mole bowed respectfully to the queen.

“Give him your hand to kiss, madame,” said Henry; “Monsieur de la Mole is no ordinary servitor.”

Marguerite obeyed.

“By the way,” said Henry, “be sure and keep the rope ladder. It is a valuable instrument for conspirators; and when we least expect it we may need it. Come, Monsieur de la Mole.”

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