Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 8.

The Massacre.

The hôtel occupied by the admiral, as we have said, was situated in the Rue de Béthizy. It was a great mansion at the rear of a court and had two wings giving on the street. A wall furnished with a large gate and two small grilled doors stretched from wing to wing.

When our three Guisards reached the end of the Rue de Béthizy, which is a continuation of the Rue des Fossés Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, they saw the hôtel surrounded by Swiss, by soldiers, and by armed citizens; every one had in his right hand either a sword or a pike or an arquebuse, and some held in their left hands torches, shedding over the scene a fitful and melancholy glare which, according as the throng moved, shifted along the street, climbed the walls; or spread over that living sea where every weapon cast its answering flash.

All around the hôtel and in the Rues Tirechappe, Étienne, and Bertin Poirée the terrible work was proceeding. Long shouts were heard, there was an incessant rattle of musketry, and from time to time some wretch, half naked, pale, and drenched in blood, leaped like a hunted stag into the circle of lugubrious light where a host of fiends seemed to be at work.

In an instant Coconnas, Maurevel, and La Hurière, accredited by their white crosses, and received with cries of welcome, were in the thickest of this struggling, panting mob. Doubtless they would not have been able to advance had not some of the throng recognized Maurevel and made way for him. Coconnas and La Hurière followed him closely and the three therefore contrived to get into the court-yard.

In the centre of this court-yard, the three doors of which had been burst open, a man, around whom the assassins formed a respectful circle, stood leaning on his drawn rapier, and eagerly looking up at a balcony about fifteen feet above him, and extending in front of the principal window of the hôtel.

This man stamped impatiently on the ground, and from time to time questioned those that were nearest to him.

“Nothing yet!” murmured he. “No one! — he must have been warned and has escaped. What do you think, Du Gast?”

“Impossible, monseigneur.”

“Why? Did you not tell me that just before we arrived a man, bare-headed, a drawn sword in his hand, came running, as if pursued, knocked at the door, and was admitted?”

“Yes, monseigneur; but M. de Besme came up immediately, the gates were shattered, and the hôtel was surrounded.”

“The man went in sure enough, but he has not gone out.”

“Why,” said Coconnas to La Hurière, “if my eyes do not deceive me, I see Monsieur de Guise.”

“You do see him, sir. Yes; the great Henry de Guise is come in person to watch for the admiral and serve him as he served the duke’s father. Every one has his day, and it is our turn now.”

“Holà, Besme, holà!” cried the duke, in his powerful voice, “have you not finished yet?”

And he struck his sword so forcibly against the stones that sparks flew out.

At this instant shouts were heard in the hôtel — then several shots — then a great shuffling of feet and a clashing of swords, and then all was again silent.

The duke was about to rush into the house.

“Monseigneur, monseigneur!” said Du Gast, detaining him, “your dignity commands you to wait here.”

“You are right, Du Gast. I must stay here; but I am dying with impatience and anxiety. If he were to escape me!”

Suddenly the noise of feet came nearer — the windows of the first floor were lighted up with what seemed the reflection of a conflagration.

The window, to which the duke’s eyes had been so many times lifted, opened, or, rather, was shattered to pieces, and a man, his pale face and white neck stained with blood, appeared on the balcony.

“Ah! at last, Besme!” cried the duke; “speak! speak!”

“Louk! louk!” replied the German coldly, and stooping down he lifted up something which seemed like a heavy body.

“But where are the others?” asked the duke, impatiently, “where are the others?”

“De udders are vinishing de udders!”

“And what have you done?”

“Vait! You shall peholt! Shtant pack a liddle.”

The duke fell back a step.

At that instant the object Besme was dragging toward him with such effort became visible.

It was the body of an old man.

He lifted it above the balcony, held it suspended an instant, and then flung it down at his master’s feet.

The heavy thud, the billows of blood spurting from the body and spattering the pavement all around, filled even the duke himself with horror; but this feeling lasted only an instant, and curiosity caused every one to crowd forward, so that the glare of the torches flickered on the victim’s body.

They could see a white beard, a venerable face, and limbs contracted by death.

“The admiral!” cried twenty voices, as instantaneously hushed.

“Yes, the admiral, here he is!” said the duke, approaching the corpse, and contemplating it with silent ecstasy.

“The admiral! the admiral!” repeated the witnesses of this terrible scene, crowding together and timidly approaching the old man, majestic even in death.

“Ah, at last, Gaspard!” said the Duke de Guise, triumphantly. “Murderer of my father! thus do I avenge him!”

And the duke dared to plant his foot on the breast of the Protestant hero.

But instantly the dying warrior opened his eyes, his bleeding and mutilated hand was clinched for the last time, and the admiral, though without stirring, said to the duke in a sepulchral voice:

“Henry de Guise, some day the assassin’s foot shall be felt on your breast. I did not kill your father. A curse upon you.”

The duke, pale, and trembling in spite of himself, felt a cold shudder come over him. He passed his hand across his brow, as if to dispel the fearful vision; when he dared again to glance at the admiral his eyes were closed, his hand unclinched, and a stream of black blood was flowing from the mouth which had just pronounced such terrible words.

The duke raised his sword with a gesture of desperate resolution.

“Vell, monsir, are you gondent?”

“Yes, my worthy friend, yes, for you have revenged”—

“The Dugue François, haf I not?”

“Our religion,” replied Henry, in a solemn voice. “And now,” he went on, addressing the Swiss, the soldiers, and citizens who filled the court and street, “to work, my friends, to work!”

“Good evening, M. de Besme,” said Coconnas with a sort of admiration, approaching the German, who still stood on the balcony, calmly wiping his sword.

“So you settled him, did you?” cried La Hurière; “how did you manage it?”

“Oh, zimbly, zimbly; he haf heerd de gommotion, he haf oben de door unt I joost brick my rabier troo his potty. But I tink dey am gilling Téligny now. I hear his gries!”

At that instant, in fact, several shrieks, apparently uttered by a woman in distress, were heard; the windows of the long gallery which formed a wing of the hotel were lighted up with a red glare; two men were seen fleeing, pursued by a long line of assassins. An arquebuse-shot killed one; the other, finding an open window directly in his way, without stopping to look at the distance from the ground, sprang boldly into the courtyard below, heeding not the enemies who awaited him there.

“Kill! kill!” cried the assassins, seeing their prey about to escape them.

The fugitive picked up his sword, which as he stumbled had fallen from his hand, dashed headlong through the soldiers, upset three or four, ran one through the body, and amid the pistol-shots and curses of the soldiers, rendered furious because they had missed him, darted like lightning in front of Coconnas, who was waiting for him at the gate with his poniard in his hand.

“Touched!” cried the Piedmontese, piercing his arm with his keen, delicate blade.

“Coward!” replied the fugitive, striking his enemy in the face with the flat of his weapon, for want of room to thrust at him with its point.

“A thousand devils!” cried Coconnas; “it’s Monsieur de la Mole!”

“Monsieur de la Mole!” reëchoed La Hurière and Maurevel.

“He is the one who warned the admiral!” cried several soldiers.

“Kill him — kill him!” was shouted on all sides.

Coconnas, La Hurière, and a dozen soldiers rushed in pursuit of La Mole, who, covered with blood, and having attained that state of exaltation which is the last resource of human strength, dashed through the streets, with no other guide than instinct. Behind him, the footsteps and shouts of his enemies spurred him on and seemed to give him wings. Occasionally a bullet would whistle by his ears and suddenly add new swiftness to his flight just as it was beginning to slacken. He no longer breathed; it was not breath, but a dull rattle, a hoarse panting, that came from his chest. Perspiration and blood wet his locks and ran together down his face.

His doublet soon became too oppressive for the beating of his heart and he tore it off. Soon his sword became too heavy for his hand and he flung it far away. Sometimes it seemed to him that the footsteps of his pursuers were farther off and that he was about to escape them; but in response to their shouts, other murderers who were along his path and nearer to him left off their bloody occupations and started in pursuit of him.

Suddenly he caught sight of the river flowing silently at his left; it seemed to him that he should feel, like a stag at bay, an ineffable pleasure in plunging into it, and only the supreme power of reason could restrain him.

On his right was the Louvre, dark and motionless, but full of strange and ominous sounds; soldiers on the drawbridge came and went, and helmets and cuirasses glittered in the moonlight. La Mole thought of the King of Navarre, as he had before thought of Coligny; they were his only protectors. He collected all his strength, and inwardly vowing to abjure his faith should he escape the massacre, by making a detour of a score or two of yards he misled the mob pursuing him, darted straight for the Louvre, leaped upon the drawbridge among the soldiers, received another poniard stab which grazed his side, and despite the cries of “Kill — kill!” which resounded on all sides, and the opposing weapons of the sentinels, darted like an arrow through the court, into the vestibule, mounted the staircase, then up two stories higher, recognized a door, and leaning against it, struck it violently with his hands and feet.

“Who is there?” asked a woman’s voice.

“Oh, my God!” murmured La Mole; “they are coming, I hear them; ’tis I—’tis I!”

“Who are you?” said the voice.

La Mole recollected the pass-word.

“Navarre — Navarre!” cried he.

The door instantly opened. La Mole, without thanking, without even seeing Gillonne, dashed into the vestibule, then along a corridor, through two or three chambers, until at last he entered a room lighted by a lamp suspended from the ceiling.

Behind curtains of velvet with gold fleurs-delis, in a bed of carved oak, a lady, half naked, leaning on her arm, stared at him with eyes wide open with terror.

La Mole sprang toward her.

“Madame,” cried he, “they are killing, they are butchering my brothers — they seek to kill me, to butcher me also! Ah! you are the queen — save me!”

And he threw himself at her feet, leaving on the carpet a large track of blood.

At the sight of a man pale, exhausted, and bleeding at her feet, the Queen of Navarre started up in terror, hid her face in her hands, and called for help.

“Madame,” cried La Mole, endeavoring to rise, “in the name of Heaven do not call, for if you are heard I am lost! Assassins are in my track — they are rushing up the stairs behind me. I hear them — there they are! there they are!”

“Help!” cried the queen, beside herself, “help!”

“Ah!” said La Mole, despairingly, “you have killed me. To die by so sweet a voice, so fair a hand! I did not think it possible.”

At the same time the door flew open, and a troop of men, their faces covered with blood and blackened with powder, their swords drawn, and their pikes and arquebuses levelled, rushed into the apartment.

Coconnas was at their head — his red hair bristling, his pale blue eyes extraordinarily dilated, his cheek cut open by La Mole’s sword, which had ploughed its bloody furrow there. Thus disfigured, the Piedmontese was terrible to behold.

“By Heaven!” he cried, “there he is! there he is! Ah! this time we have him at last!”

La Mole looked round him for a weapon, but in vain; he glanced at the queen, and saw the deepest pity depicted in her face; then he felt that she alone could save him; he threw his arms round her.

Coconnas advanced, and with the point of his long rapier again wounded his enemy’s shoulder, and the crimson drops of warm blood stained the white and perfumed sheets of Marguerite’s couch.

Marguerite saw the blood flow; she felt the shudder that ran through La Mole’s frame; she threw herself with him into the recess between the bed and the wall. It was time, for La Mole, whose strength was exhausted, was incapable of flight or resistance; he leaned his pallid head on Marguerite’s shoulder, and his hand convulsively seized and tore the thin embroidered cambric which enveloped Marguerite’s body in a billow of gauze.

“Oh, madame,” murmured he, in a dying voice, “save me.”

He could say no more. A mist like the darkness of death came over his eyes, his head sunk back, his arms fell at his side, his legs gave way, and he sank on the floor, bathed in his blood, and dragging the queen with him.

At this moment Coconnas, excited by the shouts, intoxicated by the sight of blood, and exasperated by the long chase, advanced toward the recess; in another instant his sword would have pierced La Mole’s heart, and perhaps Marguerite’s also.

At the sight of the bare steel, and even more moved at such brutal insolence, the daughter of kings drew herself up to her full stature and uttered such a shriek of terror, indignation, and rage that the Piedmontese stood petrified by an unknown feeling; and yet undoubtedly had this scene been prolonged and no other actor taken part in it, his feeling would have vanished like a morning snow under an April sun. But suddenly a secret door in the wall opened, and a pale young man of sixteen or seventeen, dressed in black and with his hair in disorder, rushed in.

“Wait, sister!” he cried; “here I am, here I am!”

“François! François!” cried Marguerite; “help! help!”

“The Duc d’Alençon!” murmured La Hurière, grounding his arquebuse.

“By Heaven! a son of France!” growled Coconnas, drawing back.

The duke glanced round him. He saw Marguerite, dishevelled, more lovely than ever, leaning against the wall, surrounded by men, fury in their eyes, sweat on their foreheads, and foam in their mouths.

“Wretches!” cried he.

“Save me, brother!” shrieked Marguerite. “They are going to kill me!”

A flame flashed across the duke’s pallid face.

He was unarmed, but sustained, no doubt, by the consciousness of his rank, he advanced with clinched fists toward Coconnas and his companions, who retreated, terrified at the lightning darting from his eyes.

“Ha! and will you murder a son of France, too?” cried the duke. Then, as they recoiled — “Ho, there! captain of the guard! Hang every one of these ruffians!”

More alarmed at the sight of this weaponless young man than he would have been at the aspect of a regiment of reiters or lansquenets, Coconnas had already reached the door. La Hurière was leaping downstairs like a deer, and the soldiers were jostling and pushing one another in the vestibule in their endeavors to escape, finding the door far too small for their great desire to be outside it. Meantime Marguerite had instinctively thrown the damask coverlid of her bed over La Mole, and withdrawn from him.

When the last murderer had departed the Duc d’Alençon came back:

“Sister,” he cried, seeing Marguerite all dabbled with blood, “are you wounded?” And he sprang toward his sister with a solicitude which would have done credit to his affection if he had not been charged with harboring too deep an affection for a brother to entertain for a sister.

“No,” said she; “I think not, or, if so, very slightly.”

“But this blood,” said the duke, running his trembling hands all over Marguerite’s body. “Where does it come from?”

“I know not,” replied she; “one of those wretches laid his hand on me, and perhaps he was wounded.”

“What!” cried the duke, “he dared to touch my sister? Oh, if you had only pointed him out to me, if you had told me which one it was, if I knew where to find him”—

“Hush!” said Marguerite.

“And why?” asked François.

“Because if you were seen at this time of night in my room”—

“Can’t a brother visit his sister, Marguerite?”

The queen gave the duke a look so keen and yet so threatening that the young man drew back.

“Yes, yes, Marguerite,” said he, “you are right, I will go to my room; but you cannot remain alone this dreadful night. Shall I call Gillonne?”

“No, no! leave me, François — leave me. Go by the way you came!”

The young prince obeyed; and hardly had he disappeared when Marguerite, hearing a sigh from behind her bed, hurriedly bolted the door of the secret passage, and then hastening to the other entrance closed it in the same way, just as a troop of archers and soldiers like a hurricane dashed by in hot chase of some other Huguenot residents in the Louvre.

After glancing round to assure herself that she was really alone, she again went to the “ruelle” of her bed, lifted the damask covering which had concealed La Mole from the Duc d’Alençon, and drawing the apparently lifeless body, by great exertion, into the middle of the room, and finding that the victim still breathed, sat down, placed his head on her knees, and sprinkled his face with water.

Then as the water cleared away the mask of blood, dust, and gunpowder which had covered his face, Marguerite recognized the handsome cavalier who, full of life and hope, had three or four hours before come to ask her to look out for his interests with her protection and that of the King of Navarre; and had gone away, dazzled by her beauty, leaving her also impressed by his.

Marguerite uttered a cry of terror, for now what she felt for the wounded man was more than mere pity — it was interest. He was no longer a mere stranger: he was almost an acquaintance. By her care La Mole’s fine features soon reappeared, free from stain, but pale and distorted by pain. A shudder ran through her whole frame as she tremblingly placed her hand on his heart. It was still beating. Then she took a smelling-bottle from the table, and applied it to his nostrils.

La Mole opened his eyes.

“Oh! mon Dieu!” murmured he; “where am I?”

“Saved!” said Marguerite. “Reassure yourself — you are saved.”

La Mole turned his eyes on the queen, gazed earnestly for a moment, and murmured,

“Oh, how beautiful you are!”

Then as if the vision were too much for him, he closed his lids and drew a sigh.

Marguerite started. He had become still paler than before, if that were possible, and for an instant that sigh was his last.

“Oh, my God! my God!” she ejaculated, “have pity on him!”

At this moment a violent knocking was heard at the door. Marguerite half raised herself, still supporting La Mole.

“Who is there?” she cried.

“Madame, it is I— it is I,” replied a woman’s voice, “the Duchesse de Nevers.”

“Henriette!” cried Marguerite. “There is no danger; it is a friend of mine! Do you hear, sir?”

La Mole with some effort got up on one knee.

“Try to support yourself while I go and open the door,” said the queen.

La Mole rested his hand on the floor and succeeded in holding himself upright.

Marguerite took one step toward the door, but suddenly stopped, shivering with terror.

“Ah, you are not alone!” she said, hearing the clash of arms outside.

“No, I have twelve guards which my brother-inlaw, Monsieur de Guise, assigned me.”

“Monsieur de Guise!” murmured La Mole. “The assassin — the assassin!”

“Silence!” said Marguerite. “Not a word!”

And she looked round to see where she could conceal the wounded man.

“A sword! a dagger!” muttered La Mole.

“To defend yourself — useless! Did you not hear? There are twelve of them, and you are alone.”

“Not to defend myself, but that I may not fall alive into their hands.”

“No, no!” said Marguerite. “No, I will save you. Ah! this cabinet! Come! come.”

La Mole made an effort, and, supported by Marguerite, dragged himself to the cabinet. Marguerite locked the door upon him, and hid the key in her alms-purse.

“Not a cry, not a groan, not a sigh,” whispered she, through the panelling, “and you are saved.”

Then hastily throwing a night-robe over her shoulders, she opened the door for her friend, who tenderly embraced her.

“Ah!” cried Madame Nevers, “then nothing has happened to you, madame!”

“No, nothing at all,” replied Marguerite, wrapping the mantle still more closely round her to conceal the spots of blood on her peignoir.

“’Tis well. However, as Monsieur de Guise has given me twelve of his guards to escort me to his hôtel, and as I do not need such a large company, I am going to leave six with your majesty. Six of the duke’s guards are worth a regiment of the King’s to-night.”

Marguerite dared not refuse; she placed the soldiers in the corridor, and embraced the duchess, who then returned to the Hôtel de Guise, where she resided in her husband’s absence.

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