Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 43.

The Ambassadors.

The following day the entire population of Paris rushed towards the Faubourg Saint Antoine, by which it had been decided that the Polish ambassadors were to enter. A line of Swiss restrained the crowd, and a regiment of horse protected the lords and the ladies of the court who rode ahead of the procession.

Soon, near the Abbey Saint Antoine, a troop of cavaliers appeared, dressed in red and yellow, with caps and furred mantles, and carrying long curved sabres like Turkish cimeters.

The officers rode at the side of the lines.

Behind this troop came a second, clothed with Oriental magnificence. They preceded the ambassadors, who, four in number, represented in a gorgeous manner the most mythological of the chivalrous kingdoms of the sixteenth century.

One of the ambassadors was the Bishop of Cracow. His costume was half ecclesiastical, half military, resplendent with gold and precious stones.

His white horse, with long mane and tail, walked with proud step and seemed to breathe out fire from his nostrils. No one would have supposed that for a month the noble animal had made fifteen leagues daily over roads which the weather had rendered almost impassable.

Beside the bishop rode the Palatine Lasco, a powerful noble, closely related to the royal family, as rich as a king and as proud.

Behind these two chief ambassadors, who were accompanied by two other palatines of high rank, came a number of Polish lords, whose horses in their harness of silk, studded with gold and precious stones, excited the applause of the people. The French horsemen, in spite of their rich apparel, were completely eclipsed by the newcomers, whom they scornfully called barbarians.

Up to the last moment Catharine had hoped the reception would be postponed on account of the King’s illness. But when the day came, and she saw Charles, as pale as a corpse, put on the gorgeous royal mantle, she realized that apparently at least she must yield to his iron will, and began to believe that after all the safest plan for Henry of Anjou was to accept the magnificent exile to which he was condemned. With the exception of the few words he had uttered when he opened his eyes as his mother came out of the closet, Charles had not spoken to Catharine since the scene which had brought about the illness to which he had succumbed. Every one in the Louvre knew that there had been a dreadful altercation between mother and son, but no one knew the cause of it, and the boldest trembled before that coldness and silence, as birds tremble before the calm which precedes a storm.

Everything had been prepared in the Louvre, not as though there were to be a reception, but as if some funeral ceremony were to occur. Every one had obeyed orders in a gloomy or passive manner. It was known that Catharine had almost trembled, and consequently every one else trembled.

The large reception-hall of the palace had been prepared, and as such ceremonies were usually public, the guards and the sentinels had received orders to admit with the ambassadors as many people as the apartments and the courts would hold. As for Paris, it presented the same aspect that every large city presents under similar circumstances; that is, confusion and curiosity. But had any one looked closely at the population that day, he would have noticed, among the groups of honest bourgeois with smiling faces, a considerable number of men in long cloaks, who exchanged glances and signs when at a distance, and when they met, a few rapid words in a low tone. These men seemed greatly occupied with the procession, followed it closely, and appeared to receive their orders from an old man, whose sharp black eyes, in spite of his white beard and grayish eyebrows, showed a vigorous activity. This old man, either by his own efforts or by those of his companions, was among the first to gain admission to the Louvre, and, thanks to the kindness of the Swiss guard, succeeded in finding a place behind the ambassadors, opposite Marguerite and Henry of Navarre.

Henry, informed by La Mole that De Mouy would be present in some disguise or other, looked round on all sides. At last his eyes encountered those of the old man and held them.

A sign from De Mouy had dispelled all doubt. He was so changed that Henry himself was doubtful whether this old man with the white beard could be the intrepid Huguenot chief who five or six days before had made so desperate a defence.

A word from Henry whispered into Marguerite’s ear called the attention of the queen to De Mouy. Then her beautiful eyes wandered around the great hall in search of La Mole; but in vain — La Mole was not there.

The speeches began. The first was to the King. Lasco, in the name of the Diet, asked him to consent that the crown of Poland be offered to a prince of the house of France.

Charles’s reply was short and to the point. He presented his brother, the Duc d’Anjou, whose courage he praised highly to the Polish ambassadors. He spoke in French, and an interpreter translated his reply at the end of each sentence. While the interpreter was speaking, the King was seen applying a handkerchief to his lips, and each time he removed it, it was covered with blood. When Charles’s reply was finished, Lasco turned to the Duc d’Anjou, bowed, and began a Latin address, in which he offered him the throne in the name of the Polish nation.

The duke replied in the same language, and in a voice he strove in vain to render firm, that he accepted with gratitude the honor which was offered to him. While he spoke, Charles remained standing, with lips compressed, and fixed on him eyes as calm and threatening as those of an eagle.

When the duke had finished, Lasco took the crown of the Jagellos from the red velvet cushion on which it rested, and while two Polish nobles placed the royal mantle on the duke, he laid the crown in Charles’s hands.

Charles signed to his brother, the Duc d’Anjou knelt down before him, and with his own hand the King placed the crown on his brother’s head. Then the two kings exchanged one of the most bitter kisses ever exchanged between two brothers.

At once a herald cried:

“Alexander Edward Henry of France, Duc d’Anjou, is crowned King of Poland. Long live the King of Poland!”

The entire assembly repeated the cry: “Long live the King of Poland!” Then Lasco turned to Marguerite. The discourse of the beautiful queen had been reserved for the last. Now, as it was a compliment accorded her in order to display her brilliant talents, as they were called, every one paid great attention to the reply, which was in Latin, and which, as we have said, Marguerite had composed herself. Lascos’s address was more of a eulogy than an address. He had yielded, Sarmatian that he was, to the admiration which the beautiful queen of Navarre inspired in every one. He had borrowed his language from Ovid; his style was that of Ronsard. He said that having left Varsovia in the middle of a very dark night, neither he nor his companions would have been able to find their way, had they not, like the Magi, been guided by two stars which became more and more brilliant as they drew nearer to France, and which now they recognized as the two beautiful eyes of the Queen of Navarre. Finally, passing from the Gospel to the Koran, from Syria to Arabia, from Nazareth to Mecca, he concluded by saying that he was quite prepared to do what the ardent votaries of the prophet did. When they were fortunate enough to see his tomb, they put out their eyes, feeling that after they had looked at such a sight, nothing in the world was worth being admired.

This address was loudly applauded by those who understood Latin because they were of the same opinion as the orator, and by those who did not understand it because they wished to appear as though they did.

Marguerite made a gracious courtesy to the gallant Sarmatian; then fixing her eyes on De Mouy, began her reply in these words:

Quod nunc hac in aulâ insperati adestis exultaremus, ego et conjux, nisi ideo immineret calamitas, scilicet non solum fratris sed etiam amici orbitas.15

15 Your unlooked-for presence in this court would overwhelm my husband and myself with joy, did it not bring with it a great misfortune, that is, the loss not only of a brother, but also that of a friend.

These words had a double meaning, and, while intended for De Mouy, were apparently addressed to Henry of Anjou. The latter, therefore, bowed in token of gratitude.

Charles did not remember having read this sentence in the address which had been submitted to him some days before; but he attached no importance to Marguerite’s words, which he knew were merely conventional. Besides, he understood Latin very imperfectly.

Marguerite continued:

Adeo dolemur a te dividi ut tecum proficisci maluissemus. Sed idem fatum quo nunc sine ullâ morâ Lutetiâ cedere juberis, hac in urbe detinet. Proficiscere ergo, frater; proficiscere, amice; proficiscere sine nobis; proficiscentem sequuntur spes et desideria nostra.16

16 We are heartbroken at being separated from you, when we should have preferred going with you, but the same fate which decrees that you must leave Paris without delay, retains us in this city. Go, therefore, dear brother; go, dear friend; go without us. Our hopes and our good wishes follow you.

It may easily be imagined that De Mouy listened with the closest attention to these words which, although addressed to the ambassadors, were intended for him alone. Two or three times Henry had glanced indifferently over his shoulder to intimate to the young Huguenot that D’Alençon had refused; but the act, which appeared involuntary, would have been insufficient for De Mouy, had not Marguerite’s words confirmed it.

While looking at Marguerite and listening with his whole soul, his piercing black eyes beneath their gray brows struck Catharine, who started as if she had had a shock of electricity, and who did not remove her eyes from him.

“What a strange face!” thought she, continuing to change her expression according as the ceremony required it. “Who is this man who watches Marguerite so attentively and whom Marguerite and Henry on their part look at so earnestly?”

The Queen of Navarre went on with her address, which from that point was a reply to the courtesies of the Polish ambassador. While Catharine was racking her brain to discover the name of this fine old man the master of ceremonies came up behind her and handed her a perfumed satin bag containing a folded paper. She opened the bag, drew out the paper, and read these words:

By the aid of a cordial which I have just administered to him Maurevel has somewhat recovered his strength, and has succeeded in writing the name of the man who was in the apartment of the King of Navarre. This man was Monsieur de Mouy.

“De Mouy!” thought the queen; “well, I felt it was he. But this old man — ah! cospetto!— this old man is”—

She leaned toward the captain of the guard.

“Look, Monsieur de Nancey,” said she, “but without attracting attention; look at Lasco who is speaking. Behind him — do you see the old man with the white beard, in the black velvet suit?”

“Yes, madame,” replied the captain.

“Well, do not lose sight of him.”

“The one to whom the King of Navarre made a sign just now?”

“Exactly. Station yourself at the door of the Louvre with ten men, and when he comes out invite him in the King’s name to dinner. If he accepts, take him into some room in which you must keep him a prisoner. If he resists, seize him, dead or alive.”

Fortunately Henry, who had been paying but little attention to Marguerite’s address, was looking at Catharine, and had not lost a single expression of her face. Seeing the eyes of the queen mother fixed so earnestly on De Mouy, he grew uneasy; when he saw her give an order to the captain of the guard he comprehended everything.

It was at this moment that he made the sign which had surprised Monsieur de Nancey, and which meant, “You are discovered, save yourself!”

De Mouy understood this gesture, which was a fitting climax to the portion of Marguerite’s address intended for him. He did not delay an instant, but mingled with the crowd and disappeared.

Henry, however, was not easy until Monsieur de Nancey had returned to Catharine, and he saw from the frown on the queen mother’s face that the captain had not been in time.

The audience was over. Marguerite exchanged a few unofficial words with Lasco.

The King staggered to his feet, bowed, and went out, leaning on the arm of Ambroise Paré, who had not left him since his illness.

Catharine, pale with anger, and Henry, silent from disappointment, followed.

As to the Duc d’Alençon, he had scarcely been noticed during the ceremony, and not once had Charles, whose eyes had not left the Duc d’Anjou, glanced at him.

The new King of Poland felt himself lost. Far from his mother, carried away by those barbarians of the north, he was like Antæus, the son of Terra, who lost his strength when lifted in the arms of Hercules. Once beyond the frontier the Duc d’Anjou felt that he was forever excluded from the throne of France.

Instead of following the King he retired to his mother’s apartments.

He found her no less gloomy and preoccupied than himself, for she was thinking of that fine mocking face she had not lost sight of during the ceremony, of the Béarnais for whom destiny had seemed to make way, sweeping aside kings, royal assassins, enemies, and obstacles.

Seeing her beloved son pale beneath his crown, and bent under his royal mantle, clasping his beautiful hands in silence, and holding them out to her piteously, Catharine rose and went to him.

“Oh, mother,” cried the King of Poland, “I am condemned to die in exile!”

“My son,” said Catharine, “have you so soon forgotten Réné‘s prediction? Do not worry, you will not have to stay there long.”

“Mother, I entreat you,” said the Duc d’Anjou, “if there is the slightest hint, or the least suspicion, that the throne of France is to be vacant, send me word.”

“Do not worry, my son,” said Catharine. “Until the day for which both of us are waiting, there shall always be a horse saddled in my stable, and in my antechamber a courier ready to set out for Poland.”

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