Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 54.

The Forest of Vincennes.

According to the order given by Charles IX., Henry was conducted that same evening to Vincennes. Such was the name given at that time to the famous castle of which today only a fragment remains, colossal enough, however, to give an idea of its past grandeur.

The trip was made in a litter, on either side of which walked four guards.

Monsieur de Nancey, bearing the order which was to open to Henry the door of the protecting abode, walked first.

At the postern of the prison they stopped. Monsieur de Nancey dismounted from his horse, opened the gate, which was closed with a padlock, and respectfully asked the king to follow.

Henry obeyed without uttering a word. Any dwelling seemed to him safer than the Louvre, and ten doors closed on him were at the same time ten doors shut between him and Catharine de Médicis.

The royal prisoner crossed the drawbridge between two soldiers, passed through the three doors on the ground floor and the three at the foot of the staircase; then, still preceded by Monsieur de Nancey, he ascended one flight. Arrived there, the captain of the guards, seeing that the king was about to mount another flight, said to him:

“My lord, you are to stop here.”

“Ah!” said Henry, pausing, “it seems that I am given the honors of the first floor.”

“Sire,” replied Monsieur de Nancey, “you are treated like a crowned head.”

“The devil! the devil!” said Henry to himself, “two or three floors more would in no way have humiliated me. I shall be too comfortable here; I suspect something.”

“Will your majesty follow me?” asked Monsieur de Nancey.

Ventre saint gris!” said the King of Navarre, “you know very well, monsieur, that it is not a question of what I will or will not do, but of what my brother Charles orders. Did he command that I should follow you?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Then I will do so, monsieur.”

They reached a sort of corridor at the end of which they came to a good-sized room, with dark and gloomy looking walls. Henry gazed around him with a glance not wholly free from anxiety.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“In the chamber of torture, my lord.”

“Ah!” replied the king, looking at it more closely.

There was something of everything in this chamber — pitchers and wooden horses for the torture by water; wedges and mallets for the torture of the boot; besides stone benches nearly all around the room for the wretches who awaited the torture. Above these benches, at the seats themselves, and at their feet, were iron rings fastened into the walls, without other symmetry than that of the torturing art. But their proximity to the seats sufficiently indicated that they were there in order to await the limbs of those who were to occupy them.

Henry walked on without a word, but not a single detail of all the hideous apparatus which, so to speak, had stamped the history of suffering on the walls escaped him.

The king was so taken up with the objects about him that he forgot to look where he was going, and came to a sudden standstill.

“Ah!” said he, “what is that?”

And he pointed to a kind of ditch dug in the damp pavement which formed the floor.

“That is the gutter, sire.”

“Does it rain here, then?”

“Yes, sire, blood.”

“Ah!” said Henry, “very good. Shall we not soon reach my apartment?”

“Yes, my lord, here it is,” said a figure in the dark, which, as it drew nearer, became clearer and more distinguishable.

Henry thought he recognized the voice, and advanced towards the figure.

“So it is you, Beaulieu,” said he. “What the devil are you doing here?”

“Sire, I have just received my appointment as governor of the fortress of Vincennes.”

“Well, my dear friend, your initiation does you honor. A king for a prisoner is not bad.”

“Pardon me, sire,” said Beaulieu, “but I have already had two gentlemen.”

“Who are they? But, pardon me, perhaps I am indiscreet. If so, assume that I have said nothing.”

“My lord, I have not been ordered to keep it secret. They are Monsieur de la Mole and Monsieur de Coconnas.”

“Ah! that is true. I saw them arrested. Poor gentlemen, and how do they bear this misfortune?”

“Differently. One is gay, the other sad; one sings, the other groans.”

“Which one groans?”

“Monsieur de la Mole, sire.”

“Faith,” said Henry, “I can understand more easily the one who groans than the one who sings. After what I have seen the prison is not a very lively place. On what floor are they?”

“High up; on the fourth.”

Henry heaved a sigh. It was there that he wished to be.

“Come, Monsieur de Beaulieu,” said he, “be good enough to show me my room. I am in haste to see it, as I am greatly fatigued from the journey we have just made.”

“This is it, my lord,” said Beaulieu, pointing to an open door.

“Number two,” said Henry; “why not number one?”

“Because that is reserved, my lord.”

“Ah! it seems, then, that you expect a prisoner of higher rank than I.”

“I did not say, my lord, that it was a prisoner.”

“Who is it, then?”

“I beg my lord not to insist, for by refusing to answer I should fail in the obedience due him.”

“Ah! that is another thing,” said Henry.

And he became more pensive than before. Number one perplexed him, apparently. The governor was assiduous in his attentions. With a thousand apologies he installed Henry in his apartment, made every excuse for the comforts he might lack, stationed two soldiers at the door, and withdrew.

“Now,” said the governor, addressing the turnkey, “let us go to the others.”

The turnkey walked ahead. They took the same road by which they had come, passed through the chamber of torture, crossed the corridor, and reached the stairway. Then, still following his guide, Monsieur de Beaulieu ascended three flights. On reaching the fourth floor the turnkey opened successively three doors, each ornamented with two locks and three enormous bolts. He had scarcely touched the third door before they heard a joyous voice exclaiming:

“By Heaven! open; if only to give us some air. Your stove is so warm that I am stifled here.”

And Coconnas, whom the reader has no doubt already recognized from his favorite exclamation, bounded from where he stood to the door.

“One instant, my gentleman,” said the turnkey, “I have not come to let you out, but to let myself in, and the governor is with me.”

“The governor!” said Coconnas, “what does he want?”

“To pay you a visit.”

“He does me great honor,” said Coconnas; “and he is welcome.”

Monsieur de Beaulieu entered and at once dispelled the cordial smile of Coconnas by one of those icy looks which belong to governors of fortresses, to jailers, and to hangmen.

“Have you any money, monsieur?” he asked of the prisoner.

“I?” said Coconnas; “not a crown.”

“Jewels?”

“I have a ring.”

“Will you allow me to search you?”

“By Heaven!” cried Coconnas, reddening with anger, “you take much on yourself, being in prison, and having me there also.”

“We must suffer everything for the service of the King.”

“So,” said the Piedmontese, “those good fellows who rob on the Pont Neuf are like you, then, in the service of the King. By Heavens! I was very unjust, monsieur, for until now I have taken them for thieves.”

“Good evening, monsieur,” said Beaulieu. “Jailer, lock the door.”

The governor went away, taking with him the ring, which was a beautiful sapphire, given him by Madame de Nevers to remind him of the color of her eyes.

“Now for the other,” he said as he went out.

They crossed an empty chamber, and the game of three doors, six locks, and nine bolts began anew.

The last door open, a sigh was the first sound that greeted the visitors.

The apartment was more gloomy looking than the one Monsieur de Beaulieu had just left. Four long narrow windows admitted a feeble light into this mournful abode. Before these, iron bars were crossed in such a way that the eye of the prisoner was arrested by a dark line and prevented from catching even a glimpse of the sky. From each corner of the room pointed arches met in the middle of the ceiling, where they spread out in Gothic fashion.

La Mole was seated in a corner, and, in spite of the entrance of the visitors, appeared to have heard nothing.

The governor paused on the threshold and looked for an instant at the prisoner, who sat motionless, his head in his hands.

“Good evening, Monsieur de la Mole,” said Beaulieu.

The young man slowly raised his head.

“Good evening, monsieur,” said he.

“Monsieur,” continued the governor, “I have come to search you.”

“That is useless,” said La Mole. “I will give you all I have.”

“What have you?”

“About three hundred crowns, these jewels, and rings.”

“Give them to me, monsieur,” said the governor.

“Here they are.”

La Mole turned out his pockets, took the rings from his finger, and the clasp from his hat.

“Have you nothing more?”

“Not that I know of.”

“And that silk cord around your neck, what may that be?” asked the governor.

“Monsieur, that is not a jewel, but a relic.”

“Give it to me.”

“What! you demand it?”

“I am ordered to leave you only your clothes, and a relic is not an article of clothing.”

La Mole made a gesture of anger, which, in the midst of the dignified and pained calm which distinguished him, seemed to impress the men accustomed to stormy emotions.

But he immediately recovered his self-possession.

“Very well, monsieur,” said he, “you shall see what you ask for.”

Then, turning as if to approach the light, he unfastened the pretended relic, which was none other than a medallion containing a portrait, which he drew out and raised to his lips. Having kissed it several times, he suddenly pretended to drop it as by accident, and placing the heel of his boot on it he crushed it into a thousand pieces.

“Monsieur!” said the governor.

And he stooped down to see if he could not save the unknown object which La Mole wished to hide from him; but the miniature was literally ground to powder.

“The King wished for this jewel,” said La Mole, “but he had no right to the portrait it contained. Now, here is the medallion; you may take it.”

“Monsieur,” said Beaulieu, “I shall complain of you to the King.”

And without taking leave of his prisoner by a single word he went out, so angry that without waiting to preside over the task, he left to the turnkey the care of closing the doors.

The jailer turned to leave, but seeing that Monsieur de Beaulieu had already started down the stairs:

“Faith! monsieur,” said he, turning back, “I did well to ask you to give me the hundred crowns at once for which I am to allow you to speak to your companion; for had you not done so the governor would have taken them from you with the three hundred others, and my conscience would not have allowed me to do anything for you; but as I was paid in advance, I promised that you should see your friend. So come. An honest man keeps his word. Only, if it is possible, for your sake as much as for mine, do not talk politics.”

La Mole left his apartment and found himself face to face with Coconnas, who was walking up and down the flags of the intermediate room.

The two friends rushed into each other’s arms.

The jailer pretended to wipe the corner of his eye, and then withdrew to watch that the prisoners were not surprised, or rather that he himself was not caught.

“Ah! here you are!” said Coconnas. “Well, has that dreadful governor paid his visit to you?”

“Yes, as he did to you, I presume?”

“Did he remove everything?”

“And from you, too?”

“Ah! I had not much; only a ring from Henrietta, that was all.”

“And money?”

“I gave all I had to the good jailer, so that he would arrange this interview for us.”

“Ah!” said La Mole, “it seems that he had something from both of us.”

“Did you pay him too?”

“I gave him a hundred crowns.”

“So much the better.”

“One can do everything with money, and I trust that we shall not lack for it.”

“Do you know what has happened to us?”

“Perfectly; we have been betrayed.”

“By that scoundrelly Duc d’Alençon. I should have been right to twist his neck.”

“Do you think our position serious?”

“I fear so.”

“Then there is likelihood of the torture?”

“I will not hide from you the fact that I have already thought of it.”

“What should you do in that case?”

“And you?”

“I should be silent,” replied La Mole, with a feverish flush.

“Silent?” cried Coconnas.

“Yes, if I had the strength.”

“Well,” said Coconnas, “if they insult me in any such way I promise you I will tell them a few things.”

“What things?” asked La Mole, quickly.

“Oh, be easy — things which will prevent Monsieur d’Alençon from sleeping for some time.”

La Mole was about to reply when the jailer, who no doubt had heard some noise, appeared, and pushing each prisoner into his respective cell, locked the doors again.

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