Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 48.

Two Heads for One Crown.

“Ask Monsieur d’Alençon to come to me,” said Charles as he dismissed his mother.

Monsieur de Nancey, in accordance with the remark of the King that henceforth he was to obey him alone, hastened to the duke’s apartments and delivered word for word the order he had just received.

The Duc d’Alençon gave a start. He had always feared Charles, and now more than ever since by conspiring he had reason to be afraid.

Nevertheless, he went to his brother in all haste.

Charles was standing up, whistling a hunting-song.

As he entered, the Duc d’Alençon caught from the glassy eye of the King one of those bitter looks of hatred which he knew so well.

“Your Majesty has sent for me,” said he. “Here I am; what does your Majesty desire?”

“I desire to tell you, my good brother, that as a reward for the great friendship you bear me I have decided today to do for you the thing you most want.”

“For me?”

“Yes, for you. Think what for some time you have been dreaming of, without daring to ask it of me, and I will give it to you.”

“Sire,” said François, “I swear to you that I desire nothing but the continued good health of the King.”

“In that case you will be glad to know, D’Alençon, that the indisposition I experienced at the time the Poles arrived has passed by. Thanks to Henriot, I escaped a furious wild boar, which would have ripped me open, and I am so well that I do not envy the most healthy man in my kingdom. Without being an unkind brother you can, therefore, ask for something besides the continuation of my health, which is excellent.”

“I want nothing, sire.”

“Yes, yes, François,” said Charles, impatiently, “you desire the crown of Navarre, since you have had an understanding with Henriot and De Mouy — with the first, that he would abdicate; with the second, that he would give it to you. Well! Henriot renounces it! De Mouy has told me of your wish, and this crown for which you are ambitious”—

“Well?” asked D’Alençon in a trembling voice.

“Well, the devil! it is yours.”

D’Alençon turned frightfully pale; then suddenly the blood rushed from his heart, which almost burst, flowed to his face, and his cheeks became suffused with a burning flush. The favor the King granted him at that moment threw him into despair.

“But, sire,” said he, trembling with emotion and trying in vain to recover his self-possession, “I never desired and certainly never asked for such a thing.”

“That is possible,” said the King, “for you are very discreet, brother; but it has been desired and asked for you.”

“Sire, I swear to you that never”—

“Do not swear.”

“But, sire, are you going to exile me, then?”

“Do you call this exile, François? Plague it, you are hard to please! What better do you hope for?”

D’Alençon bit his lips in despair.

“Faith!” continued Charles, affecting kindness, “I did not think you were so popular, François, especially with the Huguenots. But they have sought you, and I have to confess to myself that I was mistaken. Besides, I could ask nothing better than to have one of my family — my brother who loves me and who is incapable of betraying me — at the head of a party which for thirty years has made war against us. This will quell everything as if by enchantment, to say nothing of the fact that we shall all be kings in the family. There will be no one except poor Henriot who will be nothing but my friend. But he is not ambitious and he shall take this title which no one else claims.”

“Oh, sire! you are mistaken. I claim this title, and who has a better right to it than I? Henry is only your brother by marriage. I am your brother by blood, and more than this, my love — Sire, I beg you, keep me near you.”

“No, no, François,” replied Charles; “that would be to your unhappiness.”

“How so?”

“For many reasons.”

“But, sire, shall you ever find as faithful a companion as I am? From my childhood I have never left your Majesty.”

“I know that very well; and sometimes I have wished you farther away.”

“What does your Majesty mean?”

“Nothing, nothing; I understand myself. Oh, what fine hunts you will have there, François! How I envy you! Do you know that in those devilish mountains they hunt the bear as here we do the wild boar? You will send us all such magnificent skins! They hunt there with a dagger, you know; they wait for the animal, excite him, irritate him; he advances towards the hunter, and when within four feet of him he rises on his hind legs. It is then that they plunge the steel into his heart as Henry did to the boar at our last hunt. It is dangerous sport, but you are brave, François, and the danger will be a real pleasure for you.”

“Ah! your Majesty increases my grief, for I shall hunt with you no more.”

“By Heaven! so much the better!” said the King. “It helps neither of us to hunt together.”

“What does your Majesty mean?”

“That hunting with me causes you such pleasure and rouses in you such emotion that you who are the personification of skill, you who with any musket can bring down a magpie a hundred feet away, the last time we hunted together failed at twenty paces to hit a wild boar; but with your weapon, a weapon, too, with which you are familiar, you broke the leg of my best horse. The devil, François, that makes one reflect, you know!”

“Oh! sire, pardon me, it was from emotion,” said D’Alençon, who had become livid.

“Yes,” replied Charles, “I can well imagine what the emotion was; and it is on account of this emotion that I realize all that it means when I say to you: ‘Believe me, François, when one has such emotions it is best for us to hunt at a distance from each other. Think about it, brother, not while you are with me, because I can see my presence troubles you, but when you are alone, and you will see that I have every reason to fear that in another hunt you might be seized with another emotion. There is nothing like emotion for causing the hand to rise, and you might kill the rider instead of the horse, the king instead of the beast. Plague it, a bullet aimed too high or too low changes an entire government. We have an example of this in our own family. When Montgommery killed our father, Henry II., by accident — emotion, perhaps — the blow placed our brother, François II., on the throne and sent our father Henry to Saint Denis. So little is necessary for Providence to effect much!”

The duke felt the perspiration running down his face at this attack, as formidable as it was unforeseen.

It would have been impossible for the King to show more clearly that he had surmised all. Veiling his anger under a jesting manner, Charles was perhaps more terrible than as if he had let himself pour forth the lava of hate which was consuming his heart; his vengeance seemed in proportion to his rancor. As the one grew sharper, the other increased, and for the first time D’Alençon felt remorse, or rather regret for having meditated a crime which had not succeeded. He had sustained the struggle as long as he could, but at this final blow he bent his head, and Charles saw dawning in his eyes that devouring fire which in beings of a tender nature ploughs the furrow from which spring tears.

But D’Alençon was one of those who weep only from anger. Charles fixed on him his vulture gaze, watching the feelings which succeeded one another across the face of the young man, and all those sensations appeared to him as accurately, thanks to the deep study he had made of his family as if the heart of the duke had been an open book.

He left him a moment, crushed, motionless, and mute; then in a voice stamped with the firmness of hatred:

“Brother,” said he, “we have declared to you our resolution; it is immutable. You will go.”

D’Alençon gave a start, but Charles did not appear to notice it, and continued:

“I wish Navarre to be proud of having for king a brother of the King of France. Gold, power, honor, all that belongs to your birth you shall have, as your brother Henry had, and like him,” he added, smiling, “you will bless me from afar. But no matter, blessings know no distance.”

“Sire”—

“Accept my decision, or rather, resign yourself. Once king, we shall find a wife for you worthy of a son of France, and she, perhaps, may bring you another throne.”

“But,” said the Duc d’Alençon, “your Majesty forgets your good friend Henry.”

“Henry! but I told you that he did not want the throne of Navarre! I told you he had abdicated in favor of you! Henry is a jovial fellow, and not a pale-face like you. He likes to laugh and amuse himself at his ease, and not mope, as we who wear crowns are condemned to do.”

D’Alençon heaved a sigh.

“Your Majesty orders me then to occupy myself”—

“No, not at all. Do not disturb yourself at all; I will arrange everything; rely on me, as on a good brother. And now that everything is settled, go. However, not a word of our conversation to your friends. I will take measures to give publicity to the affair very soon. Go now, François.”

There was nothing further to be said, so the duke bowed and withdrew, rage in his heart.

He was very anxious to find Henry and talk with him about all that had just taken place; but he found only Catharine. As a matter of fact, Henry wished to avoid the interview, whereas the latter sought for it.

On seeing Catharine the duke swallowed his anger and strove to smile. Less fortunate than Henry of Anjou, it was not a mother he sought in Catharine, but merely an ally. He began therefore by dissimulation, for in order to make good alliances it is necessary for each party to be somewhat deceived.

He met Catharine with a face on which there remained only a slight trace of anxiety.

“Well, madame,” said he, “here is great news; have you heard it?”

“I know that there is a plan on hand to make a king of you, monsieur.”

“It is a great kindness on the part of my brother, madame.”

“Is it not?”

“And I am almost tempted to believe that I owe a part of my gratitude to you; for it was really you who advised Charles to make me the present of a throne; it is to you I owe it. However, I will confess that, at heart, it gives me pain thus to rob the King of Navarre.”

“You love Henriot very much, apparently.”

“Why, yes; we have been intimate for some time.”

“Do you think he loves you as much as you love him?”

“I hope so, madame.”

“Such a friendship is very edifying; do you know it? especially between princes. Court friendships mean very little, François.”

“Mother, you must remember we are not only friends, but almost brothers.”

Catharine smiled a strange smile.

“Ah,” said she, “are there brothers among kings?”

“Oh! as to that, neither of us was a king, mother, when our intimacy began. Moreover, we never expected to be kings; that is why we loved each other.”

“Yes, but things are changed.”

“How changed?”

“Why, who can say now whether both of you will not be kings?”

From the nervous start of the duke and the flush which rose to his brow Catharine saw that the arrow aimed by her had hit the mark.

“He?” said he, “Henriot king? And of what kingdom, mother?”

“One of the most magnificent kingdoms in Christendom, my son.”

“Oh! mother,” said D’Alençon, growing pale, “what are you saying?”

“What a good mother ought to say to her son, and what you have thought of more than once, François.”

“I?” said the duke; “I have thought of nothing, madame, I swear to you.”

“I can well believe you, for your friend, your brother Henry, as you call him, is, under his apparent frankness, a very clever and wily person, who keeps his secrets better than you keep yours, François. For instance, did he ever tell you that De Mouy was his man of business?”

As she spoke, Catharine turned a glance upon François as though it were a dagger aimed at his very soul.

But the latter had but one virtue, or rather vice — the art of dissimulation; and he bore her look unflinchingly.

“De Mouy!” said he in surprise, as if it were the first time he had heard the name mentioned in that connection.

“Yes, the Huguenot De Mouy de Saint Phale; the one who nearly killed Monsieur de Maurevel, and who, secretly and in various disguises, is running all over France and the capital, intriguing and raising an army to support your brother Henry against your family.”

Catharine, ignorant that on this point her son François knew as much if not more than she, rose at these words and started majestically to leave the room, but François detained her.

“Mother,” said he, “another word, if you please. Since you deign to initiate me into your politics, tell me how, with his feeble resources, and being so slightly known, Henry could succeed in carrying on a war serious enough to disturb my family?”

“Child,” said the queen, smiling, “he is supported by perhaps more than thirty thousand men; he has but to say the word and these thirty thousand men will appear as suddenly as if they sprang from the ground; and these thirty thousand men are Huguenots, remember, that is, the bravest soldiers in the world, and then he has a protector whom you neither could nor would conciliate.”

“Who is that?”

“He has the King, the King, who loves him and who urges him on; the King, who from jealousy of your brother of Poland, and from spite against you, is looking about for a successor. But, blind man that you are if you do not see it, he seeks somewhere else besides in his own family.”

“The King! — you think so, mother?”

“Have you not noticed how he loves Henriot, his Henriot?”

“Yes, mother, yes.”

“And how he is repaid, for this same Henriot, forgetting that his brother-inlaw would have shot him at the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, grovels to the earth like a dog which licks the hand that has beaten him.”

“Yes, yes,” murmured François, “I have already noticed that Henry is very humble with my brother Charles.”

“Clever in trying to please him in everything.”

“So much so that because of being always rallied by the King as to his ignorance of hawking he has begun to study it; and yesterday, yes, it was only yesterday, he asked me if I had not some books on that sport.”

“Well,” said Catharine, whose eyes sparkled as if an idea had suddenly come to her, “what did you answer him?”

“That I would look in my library.”

“Good,” said Catharine, “he must have this book.”

“But I looked, madame, and found nothing.”

“I will find one — and you shall give it to him as though it came from you.”

“And what will come of this?”

“Have you confidence in me, D’Alençon?”

“Yes, mother.”

“Will you obey me blindly so far as Henry is concerned? For whatever you may have said you do not love him.”

D’Alençon smiled.

“And I detest him,” continued Catharine.

“Yes, I will obey you.”

“Well, the day after tomorrow come here for the book; I will give it to you, you shall take it to Henry, and”—

“And?”

“Leave the rest to Providence or to chance.”

François knew his mother well enough to realize that she was not in the habit of leaving to Providence or to chance the care of friendships or hatreds. But he said nothing, and bowing like a man who accepts the commission with which he is charged, he returned to his own apartments.

“What does she mean?” thought the young man as he mounted the stairs. “I cannot see. But what I do understand in all this is that she acts like our common enemy. Well, let her go ahead.”

Meantime Marguerite, through La Mole, had received a letter from De Mouy to the King of Navarre. As in politics the two illustrious allies had no secrets, she opened the letter and read it.

The letter must have interested her, for, taking advantage of the darkness which was beginning to overshadow the walls of the Louvre, Marguerite at once hurried along the secret corridor, ascended the winding stairway, and, having looked carefully about on all sides, glided on like a shadow and disappeared within the antechamber of the King of Navarre.

This room had been unguarded since the disappearance of Orthon.

This circumstance, of which we have not spoken since the reader learned of the tragic fate of poor Orthon, had greatly troubled Henry. He had spoken of it to Madame de Sauve and to his wife, but neither of them knew any more about it than he did. Madame de Sauve had given him some information from which it was perfectly clear to Henry’s mind that the poor boy had been a victim of some machination of the queen mother, and that this was why he himself had been interrupted with De Mouy in the inn of the Belle Étoile. Any other than Henry would have kept silence, fearing to speak, but Henry calculated everything. He realized that his silence would betray him. One does not as a rule lose one’s servitor and confidant thus, without making inquiries about him and looking for him. So Henry asked and searched even in the presence of the King and the queen mother, and of every one, from the sentinel who walked before the gate of the Louvre to the captain of the guards, keeping watch in the antechamber of the King; but all inquiry and search was in vain, and Henry seemed so affected by the circumstance and so attached to the poor absent servitor that he said he would not put another in his place until he was perfectly sure that Orthon had disappeared forever.

So the antechamber, as we have said, was empty when Marguerite reached it.

Light as were the steps of the queen, Henry heard them and turned round.

“You, madame!” he exclaimed.

“Yes,” said Marguerite. “Quick! Read this!” and she handed him the open letter.

It contained these lines:

Sire: The moment has come for putting our plan of flight into execution. The day after tomorrow there will be hunting along the Seine, from Saint Germain to Maisons, that is, all along the forest.

Go to the hunt, although it is hawking; wear a good coat of mail under your suit; take your best sword and ride the best horse in your stable. About noon, when the chase is at its height, and the King is galloping after the falcon, escape alone if you come alone; with the Queen of Navarre if the queen will follow you.

Fifty of our men will be hidden in the Pavilion of François I., of which we have the key; no one will know that they will be there, for they will have come at night, and the shutters will be closed.

You will pass by the Alley of the Violettes, at the end of which I shall be watching; at the right of this alley in an open space will be Messieurs de la Mole and Coconnas, with two horses. These horses are intended to replace yours and that of her majesty the Queen of Navarre, if necessary.

Adieu, sire; be ready, as we shall be.

“You will be,” said Marguerite, uttering after sixteen hundred years the same words that Cæsar spoke on the banks of the Rubicon.

“Be it so, madame,” replied Henry; “I will not fail you.”

“Now, sire, be a hero; it is not difficult. You have but to follow the path that is indicated, and make a beautiful throne for me,” said the daughter of Henry II.

An imperceptible smile rose to the thin lips of the Béarnais. He kissed Marguerite’s hand, and went out to explore the corridor, whistling the refrain of an old song:

Cil qui mieux battit la muraille

N’entra pas dedans le chasteau.17

17 He who beats on the wall will never get into the castle.

The precaution was wise, for just as he opened the door of his sleeping-room the Duc d’Alençon opened that of his antechamber. Henry motioned to Marguerite, and then, aloud, said:

“Ah! is it you, brother? Welcome.”

At the sign from her husband the queen had understood everything, and stepped hurriedly into a dressing-closet, in front of the door of which hung a thick tapestry. The Duc d’Alençon entered with a timorous step and looked around him.

“Are we alone, brother?” asked he in a whisper.

“Entirely. But what is the matter? You seem disturbed.”

“We are discovered, Henry.”

“How? — discovered?”

“Yes, De Mouy has been arrested.”

“I know it.”

“Well, De Mouy has told the King all.”

“What has he told him?”

“He has told him that I desire the throne of Navarre, and that I have conspired to obtain it.”

“Ah, the stupid!” cried Henry, “so that now you are compromised, my poor brother! How is it, then, that you have not been arrested?”

“I do not know. The King joked with me by pretending to offer me the throne of Navarre. He hoped, no doubt, to draw some confession from me, but I said nothing.”

“And you did well, ventre saint gris!” said the Béarnais. “Stand firm, for our lives depend on that.”

“Yes,” said François, “the position is unsafe, I know. That is why I came to ask your advice, brother; what do you think I ought to do — run or stay?”

“You must have seen the King, since he spoke to you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well! you must have read his thoughts. So follow your inspiration.”

“I prefer to remain,” replied François.

Notwithstanding the fact that he was almost thorough master of himself, Henry could not prevent a movement of joy from escaping him, and slight as it was, François saw it.

“Remain, then,” said Henry.

“But you?”

“Why!” replied Henry, “if you remain, I have no motive for leaving. I was going only to follow you from devotion, in order not to be separated from my brother.”

“So,” said D’Alençon, “there is an end to all our plans; you give up without a struggle at the first stroke of ill luck?”

“I do not look upon it as a stroke of ill luck to remain here,” said Henry. “Thanks to my careless disposition, I am contented everywhere.”

“Well, then,” said D’Alençon, “we need say no more about it, only in case you decide anything different let me know.”

“By Heaven! I shall not fail to do that, you may be sure,” replied Henry. “Was it not agreed that we were to have no secrets from each other?”

D’Alençon said no more, but withdrew, pondering, however; for at one time he thought he had seen the tapestry in front of the closet move.

Scarcely was the duke gone when the curtain was raised and Marguerite reappeared.

“What do you think of this visit?” asked Henry.

“That there is something new and important on hand.”

“What do you think it is?”

“I do not know yet; but I will find out.”

“In the meanwhile?”

“In the meanwhile do not fail to come to my room tomorrow evening.”

“Indeed I will not fail, madame!” said Henry, gallantly kissing the hand of his wife.

With the same caution she had used in coming Marguerite returned to her own apartments.

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