Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 46.

The Inn of La Belle Étoile.

Two hours after the event we have described, no trace of which remained on Catharine’s face, Madame de Sauve, having finished her work for the queen, returned to her own rooms. Henry followed her, and learning from Dariole that Orthon had been there he went directly to the mirror and found the note.

It was, as we have said, couched in these terms:

This evening at ten o’clock, Rue de l’Arbre Sec, Hôtel de la Belle Étoile. If you come send no reply; otherwise send back NO by the bearer.

There was no address.

“Henry will not fail to keep the appointment,” said Catharine, “for even had he not wished to do so there is no longer a messenger to take back his answer.”

Catharine was not mistaken.

Henry inquired for Orthon. Dariole said that he had gone out with the queen mother; but as the note had been found in its place, and as the poor boy was known to be incapable of treason, Henry felt no anxiety.

He dined as usual at the table of the King, who joked him greatly on the mistakes he had made while hawking that morning.

Henry made excuses for himself, saying that he came from the mountains and not the plain, but he promised Charles to study the art. Catharine was charming, and on leaving the table begged Marguerite to pass the evening with her.

At eight o’clock Henry took two attendants, left by the Porte Saint Honoré, made a long circuit, returned by the Tour de Bois, and crossing the Seine at the ferry of Nesle, rode up the Rue Saint Jacques, where he dismissed his gentlemen, as if he were going to keep some love appointment. At the corner of the Rue des Mathurins he found a man on horseback, wrapped in a cloak. He approached him.

“Mantes!” said the man.

“Pau!” replied the king.

The man at once dismounted. Henry put on his splashed mantle, mounted the horse, which was covered with foam, returned by the Rue de la Harpe, crossed the Pont Saint Michel, passed down the Rue Barthélemy, again crossed the river at the Pont aux Meuniers, descended the quays, took the Rue de l’Arbre Sec, and knocked at the door of Maître la Hurière’s.

La Mole was in a room writing a long love-letter — to whom may easily be imagined.

Coconnas was in the kitchen with La Hurière, watching half a dozen partridges roasting, and disputing with his friend the host as to when they should be removed from the spit. At this moment Henry knocked. Grégoire opened the door and led the horse to the stable, while the traveller entered, stamping on the floor as if to warm his benumbed feet.

“Maître La Hurière,” said La Mole, as he continued to write, “here is a gentleman asking for you.”

La Hurière advanced, looked at Henry from head to foot, and as his thick cloth mantle did not inspire the innkeeper with very great veneration:

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Well, by Heaven!” said Henry, pointing to La Mole, “monsieur has just told you; I am a gentleman from Gascony come to court.”

“What do you want?”

“A room and supper.”

“Humph!” said La Hurière, “have you a lackey?”

This was the question usually asked, as is well known.

“No,” replied Henry, “but I hope to have one when I make my fortune.”

“I do not let rooms to any one unless he has a lackey,” said La Hurière.

“Even if I offered to pay you double for your supper?”

“Oh! you are very generous, worthy sir!” said La Hurière, looking suspiciously at Henry.

“Not at all, but, hoping to pass the night in your hotel, which has been highly recommended by a nobleman from my county who has been here, I invited a friend to sup with me. Have you any good wine of Arbois?”

“I have some which is better than the King of Navarre drinks.”

“Good! I will pay well for it. Ah! here is my friend.”

Just then the door opened and a gentleman entered older by a few years than the first, and dragging a long rapier at his side.

“Ah!” said he, “you are prompt, my young friend. For a man who has just made two hundred leagues it is something to be so punctual.”

“Is this your guest?” asked La Hurière.

“Yes,” said the first, going up to the young man with the rapier and shaking him by the hand, “we will have our supper now.”

“Here or in your room?”

“Wherever you please.”

“Maître,” said La Mole to La Hurière, “rid us of these Huguenot fellows. Coconnas and I cannot say a word before them.”

“Carry the supper to room No. 2, on the third floor. Upstairs, gentlemen.”

The two travellers followed Grégoire, who preceded them with lights.

La Mole watched them until they had disappeared. Then turning round he saw Coconnas, whose head was thrust out of the kitchen door. Two great eyes and an open mouth gave to the latter’s face a remarkable expression of astonishment.

La Mole stepped up to him.

“By Heaven!” said Coconnas, “did you see?”

“What?”

“Those two gentlemen.”

“Well?”

“I would swear that it was”—

“Who?”

“Why — the King of Navarre and the man in the red cloak.”

“Swear if you will, but not too loud.”

“Did you recognize them too?”

“Certainly.”

“What are they here for?”

“Some love affair.”

“You think so?”

“I am sure of it.”

“La Mole, I prefer sword-thrusts to these love affairs. I would have sworn a moment ago, now I will bet.”

“What will you bet?”

“That there is some plot on hand.”

“You are mad.”

“I tell you”—

“I tell you that even if they are plotting it is their own affair.”

“That is true. However,” said Coconnas, “I no longer belong to Monsieur d’Alençon. So let them do as they see fit.”

As the partridges had apparently reached the state in which Coconnas liked them, the Piedmontese, who counted on making the most of his dinner of them, called Maître la Hurière to remove them from the spit.

Meantime Henry and De Mouy were installed in their chamber.

“Well, sire,” said De Mouy, when Grégoire had set the table, “have you seen Orthon?”

“No; but I found the note he left behind the mirror. The boy must have become frightened, I suppose, for Queen Catharine came in while he was there, so he went away without waiting for my answer.”

“For a moment I felt somewhat anxious about him, as Dariole told me that the queen mother had had a long talk with him.”

“Oh! there is no danger. The boy is clever, and although the queen mother knows his profession he will not let her find out much from him, I am sure.”

“But have you seen him, De Mouy?” asked Henry.

“No, but I expect to this evening. At midnight he is to come here for me with a good petronel. He will tell me what happened as we walk along.”

“And the man at the corner of the Rue des Mathurins?”

“What man?”

“The man who gave me his horse and cloak. Are you sure of him?”

“He is one of our most devoted followers. Besides, he neither knows your majesty nor why he himself was there.”

“Can we discuss our affairs without fear, then?”

“Certainly. Besides, La Mole is on the watch.”

“Well, sire, what says Monsieur d’Alençon?”

“Monsieur d’Alençon will not go, De Mouy. He said so positively. The election of D’Anjou to the throne of Poland and the king’s illness have changed his mind.”

“So he is the one who spoiled our plan?”

“Yes.”

“Has he betrayed us?”

“Not yet; but he will do so at the first opportunity.”

“Coward! traitor! Why did he not answer my letters?”

“In order to have proofs against you, and none against himself. Meantime, all is lost, is it not, De Mouy?”

“On the contrary, sire, all is won. You know that the whole party, except the faction of the Prince de Condé, was for you, and used the duke, with whom it seemed to have relations, only as a safeguard. Well, since the day of the ceremony I have arranged so that everything is for you. One hundred men were enough to escape with the Duc d’Alençon; I have raised fifteen hundred. In one week they will be ready and drawn up on the road to Pau. It will not be a flight but a retreat. Fifteen hundred men will suffice, sire, will they not? Shall you feel safe with such an army?”

Henry smiled and touched him on the shoulder.

“You know, De Mouy,” said he, “and you alone know it, that Henry of Navarre is not naturally such a coward as is supposed.”

“Yes, I know that, sire; and I trust before long that all France will know it too.”

“But where one plots one must succeed. The first condition of success is decision; and for decision to be rapid, frank, and to the point, one must be sure of success.”

“Well, sire, what days do you hunt?”

“Every week or ten days we either hunt or hawk.”

“When did you hunt last?”

“To-day.”

“Then a week or ten days from now you will hunt again?”

“No doubt; possibly before then.”

“Listen, sire; everything seems perfectly quiet. The Duc d’Anjou has left; no one thinks of him. The King is getting better every day. The persecution against us has almost ceased. Play the amiable with the queen mother and Monsieur d’Alençon; keep telling him that you cannot go without him, and try to make him believe you, which is more difficult.”

“Do not worry, he will believe me.”

“Do you think he has such confidence in you?”

“No, God forbid, but he believes everything the queen says.”

“And is the queen true to us?”

“Oh! I have proof of it. Besides, she is ambitious and is dying for this far-off crown of Navarre.”

“Well! three days before the hunt send me word where it will take place — whether it is to be at Bondy, at Saint Germain, or at Rambouillet. Monsieur de la Mole will ride ahead of you; follow him, and ride fast. Once out of the forest if the queen mother wants you she will have to run after you; and I trust that her Norman horses will not see even the hoofs of our Barbary steeds and our Spanish ponies.”

“Agreed, De Mouy.”

“Have you any money, sire?”

Henry made the same grimace he made all his life at this question.

“Not much,” said he; “but I think Margot has some.”

“Well! whether it is yours or hers, bring as much as you can.”

“And in the meantime what are you going to do?”

“Having paid some attention to your majesty’s affairs, as you see, will your majesty permit me to devote a little time to my own?”

“Certainly, De Mouy, certainly, but what are yours?”

“Yesterday Orthon told me (he is a very intelligent boy, whom I recommend to your majesty) that he met that scoundrel of a Maurevel near the arsenal, that thanks to Réné he has recovered, and that he was warming himself in the sun like the snake that he is.”

“Ah, yes, I understand,” said Henry.

“Very good, then. You will be king some day, sire, and if you have anything such as I have to avenge you can do so in a kingly way. I am a soldier and must avenge myself like a soldier. So while all our little affairs are being arranged, which will give that scoundrel five or six days in which to recover more fully, I too shall take a stroll around the arsenal, and I will pin him to the grass with four blows of my rapier, after which I shall leave Paris with a lighter heart.”

“Attend to your affairs, my friend, by all means,” said the Béarnais. “By the way, you are pleased with La Mole, are you not?”

“Yes; he is a charming fellow, devoted to you body and soul, sire, and on whom you can depend as you can on me — brave”—

“And above all, discreet. So he must follow us to Navarre, De Mouy; once there we will look about and see what we can do to recompense him.”

As Henry concluded these words with a sly smile, the door opened or rather was broken in, and the man they had just been praising appeared, pale and agitated.

“Quick, sire,” cried he; “quick, the house is surrounded.”

“Surrounded!” cried Henry, rising; “by whom?”

“By the King’s guards.”

“Oh!” said De Mouy, drawing his pistols from his belt, “we are to have a battle, apparently.”

“Well,” said La Mole, “you may well talk of pistols and battle, but what can you do against fifty men?”

“He is right,” said the king; “and if there were any means of escape”—

“There is one which has already been of use to me, and if your majesty will follow me”—

“And De Mouy?”

“And De Mouy too if he wishes, but you must be quick.”

Steps were heard on the stairs.

“It is too late,” said Henry.

“Ah! if any one would only engage them for five minutes,” cried La Mole, “I would save the king.”

“Save him, then, monsieur,” said De Mouy; “I will look after them. Go, sire, go.”

“But what shall you do?”

“Do not fear, sire, but go.”

And De Mouy began by hiding the king’s plate, napkin, and goblet, so that it might seem as though he had been alone at table.

“Come, sire, come,” cried La Mole, seizing the king by the arm and dragging him towards the stairway.

“De Mouy, my brave De Mouy!” exclaimed Henry, holding out his hand to the young man.

De Mouy kissed the hand, pushed Henry from the room, and closed and bolted the door after him.

“Yes, I understand,” said Henry, “he will be caught, while we escape; but who the devil can have betrayed us?”

“Come, sire, come. They are on the stairs.”

In fact, the light of the torches was beginning to be seen on the wall, while at the foot of the stairs sounds like the clanking of swords were heard.

“Quick, quick, sire!” cried La Mole.

And, guiding the king in the darkness, he ascended two flights, pushed open a door, which he locked behind him, and, opening the window of a closet:

“Sire,” said he, “is your majesty very much afraid of a walk across the roofs?”

“I?” said Henry, “come, now; am I not a chamois hunter?”

“Well, your majesty must follow me. I know the way and will guide you.”

“Go on,” said Henry, “I will follow.”

La Mole stepped out, went along the ledge, which formed a sort of gutter, at the end of which they came to a depression between two roofs. In this way they reached an open window leading to an empty garret.

“Sire,” said La Mole, “here we are at the opening.”

“Ah! so much the better,” said Henry, wiping the perspiration from his pale face.

“Now,” said La Mole, “it will be easier: this garret opens on to a stairway, the stairway leads to an alley, and the alley to the street. I travelled the same road, sire, on a much more terrible night than this.”

“Go on, go on,” said Henry.

La Mole sprang through the open window, reached the unlocked door, opened it, came to a winding stairway, and placing in the king’s hand the cord that served as a baluster:

“Come, sire,” said he.

Half way down the stairs Henry stopped. He was before a window which overlooked the courtyard of the Belle Étoile. On the opposite stairway soldiers were seen running, some carrying swords, others torches.

Suddenly in the midst of a group the King of Navarre perceived De Mouy. He had surrendered his sword and was quietly descending the stairs.

“Poor fellow,” said Henry, “so brave and devoted!”

“Faith, sire,” said La Mole, “your majesty is right. He certainly does seem calm; and see, he even laughs! It must be that he is planning some scheme, for you know he seldom laughs.”

“And the young man who was with you?”

“Monsieur de Coconnas?” asked La Mole.

“Yes; what has become of him?”

“Oh! sire, I am not anxious about him. On seeing the soldiers he said only one word to me: ‘Do we risk anything?’

“‘Our heads,’ I answered.

“‘Can you escape?’

“‘I hope so.’

“‘Well, I can too,’ he replied. And I promise you he will! Sire, when Coconnas is caught it will be because he wishes to be caught.”

“Then,” said Henry, “all is well. Let us try to get back to the Louvre.”

“That will be easy enough, sire,” said La Mole. “Let us wrap ourselves in our cloaks and start. The street is full of people running to see the commotion, and we shall be taken for spectators.”

The gate was open and Henry and La Mole encountered no obstacle beyond the crowds in the street.

They reached the Rue d’Avernon; but in passing by the Rue Poulies they saw De Mouy and his escort cross the Place Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, led by the captain of the guards, Monsieur de Nancey.

“Ah!” said Henry, “they are taking him to the Louvre, apparently. The devil! the gates will be closed. They will take the names of all those who enter, and if I am seen returning after him they will think I have been with him.”

“Well! but, sire,” said La Mole, “enter some other way than by the gate.”

“How the devil do you mean?”

“Well, sire, there is the Queen of Navarre’s window.”

Ventre saint gris, Monsieur de la Mole,” said Henry, “you are right. I never thought of that! But how can I attract the attention of the queen?”

“Oh,” said La Mole, bowing with an air of respectful gratitude, “your majesty throws stones so well!”

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