Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 9.

The Murderers.

Coconnas had not fled, he had retreated; La Hurière had not fled, he had flown. The one had disappeared like a tiger, the other like a wolf.

The consequence was that La Hurière had already reached the Place Saint Germain l’Auxerrois when Coconnas was only just leaving the Louvre.

La Hurière, finding himself alone with his arquebuse, while around him men were running, bullets were whistling, and bodies were falling from windows — some whole, others dismembered — began to be afraid and was prudently thinking of returning to his tavern, but as he turned into the Rue de l’Arbre Sec from the Rue d’Averon he fell in with a troop of Swiss and light cavalry: it was the one commanded by Maurevel.

“Well,” cried Maurevel, who had christened himself with the nickname of King’s Killer, “have you finished so soon? Are you going back to your tavern, worthy landlord? And what the devil have you done with our Piedmontese gentleman? No misfortune has happened to him? That would be a shame, for he started out well.”

“No, I think not,” replied La Hurière; “I hope he will rejoin us!”

“Where have you been?”

“At the Louvre, and I must say we were very rudely treated there.”

“By whom?”

“Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon. Isn’t he interested in this affair?”

“Monseigneur le Duc d’Alençon is not interested in anything which does not concern himself personally. Propose to treat his two older brothers as Huguenots and he would be in it — provided only that the work should be done without compromising him. But won’t you go with these worthy fellows, Maître La Hurière?”

“And where are they going?”

“Oh, mon Dieu! Rue Montorguen; there is a Huguenot minister there whom I know; he has a wife and six children. These heretics are enormous breeders; it will be interesting.”

“And where are you going?”

“Oh, I have a little private business.”

“Say, there! don’t go off without me,” said a voice which made Maurevel start, “you know all the good places and I want to have my share.”

“Ah! it is our Piedmontese,” said Maurevel.

“Yes, it is Monsieur de Coconnas,” said La Hurière; “I thought you were following me.”

“Hang it! you made off too swiftly for that; and besides I turned a little to one side so as to fling into the river a frightful child who was screaming, ‘Down with the Papists! Long live the admiral!’ Unfortunately, I believe the little rascal knew how to swim. These miserable heretics must be flung into the water like cats before their eyes are opened if they are to be drowned at all.”

“Ah! you say you are just from the Louvre; so your Huguenot took refuge there, did he?” asked Maurevel.

Mon Dieu! yes.”

“I gave him a pistol-shot at the moment when he was picking up his sword in the admiral’s court-yard, but I somehow or other missed him.”

“Well, I did not miss him,” added Coconnas; “I gave him such a thrust in the back that my sword was wet five inches up the blade. Besides, I saw him fall into the arms of Madame Marguerite, a pretty woman, by Heaven! yet I confess I should not be sorry to hear he was really dead; the vagabond is infernally spiteful, and capable of bearing me a grudge all his life. But didn’t you say you were bound somewhere?”

“Why, do you mean to go with me?”

“I do not like standing still, by Heaven! I have killed only three or four as yet, and when I get cold my shoulder pains me. Forward! forward!”

“Captain,” said Maurevel to the commander of the troop, “give me three men, and go and despatch your parson with the rest.”

Three Swiss stepped forward and joined Maurevel. Nevertheless, the two companies proceeded side by side till they reached the top of the Rue Tirechappe; there the light horse and the Swiss took the Rue de la Tonnellerie, while Maurevel, Coconnas, La Hurière, and his three men were proceeding down the Rue Trousse Vache and entering the Rue Sainte Avoye. “Where the devil are you taking us?” asked Coconnas, who was beginning to be bored by this long march from which he could see no results.

“I am taking you on an expedition at once brilliant and useful. Next to the admiral, next to Téligny, next to the Huguenot princes, I could offer you nothing better. So have patience, our business calls us to the Rue du Chaume, and we shall be there in a second.”

“Tell me,” said Coconnas, “is not the Rue du Chaume near the Temple?”

“Yes, why?”

“Because an old creditor of our family lives there, one Lambert Mercandon, to whom my father wished me to hand over a hundred rose nobles I have in my pocket for that purpose.”

“Well,” replied Maurevel, “this is a good opportunity for paying it. This is the day for settling old accounts. Is your Mercandon a Huguenot?”

“Oho, I understand!” said Coconnas; “he must be”—

“Hush! here we are.”

“What is that large hôtel, with its entrance in the street?”

“The Hôtel de Guise.”

“Truly,” returned Coconnas, “I should not have failed to come here, as I am under the patronage of the great Henry. But, by Heaven! all is so very quiet in this quarter, we scarcely hear any firing, and we might fancy ourselves in the country. The devil fetch me but every one is asleep!”

And indeed the Hôtel de Guise seemed as quiet as in ordinary times. All the windows were closed, and a solitary light was burning behind the blind of the principal window over the entrance which had attracted Coconnas’s attention as soon as they entered the street.

Just beyond the Hôtel de Guise, in other words, at the corner of the Rue du Petit Chantier and the Rue des Quatre Fils, Maurevel halted.

“Here is the house of the man we want,” said he.

“Of the man you want — that is to say”— observed La Hurière.

“Since you are with me we want him.”

“What! that house which seems so sound asleep”—

“Exactly! La Hurière, now go and make practical use of the plausible face which heaven, by some blunder, gave you, and knock at that house. Hand your arquebuse to M. de Coconnas, who has been ogling it this last half hour. If you are admitted, you must ask to speak to Seigneur de Mouy.”

“Aha!” exclaimed Coconnas, “now I understand — you also have a creditor in the quarter of the Temple, it would seem.”

“Exactly so!” responded Maurevel. “You will go up to him pretending to be a Huguenot, and inform De Mouy of all that has taken place; he is brave, and will come down.”

“And once down?” asked La Hurière.

“Once down, I will beg of him to cross swords with me.”

“On my soul, ’tis a fine gentleman’s,” said Coconnas, “and I propose to do exactly the same thing with Lambert Mercandon; and if he is too old to respond, I will try it with one of his sons or nephews.”

La Hurière, without making any reply, went and knocked at the door, and the sounds echoing in the silence of the night caused the doors of the Hôtel de Guise to open, and several heads to make their appearance from out them; it was evident that the hôtel was quiet after the manner of citadels, that is to say, because it was filled with soldiers.

The heads were almost instantly withdrawn, as doubtless an inkling of the matter in hand was divined.

“Does your Monsieur de Mouy live here?” inquired Coconnas, pointing to the house at which La Hurière was still knocking.

“No, but his mistress does.”

“By Heaven! how gallant you are, to give him an occasion to draw sword in the presence of his lady-love! We shall be the judges of the field. However, I should like very well to fight myself — my shoulder burns.”

“And your face,” added Maurevel, “is considerably damaged.”

Coconnas uttered a kind of growl.

“By Heaven!” he said, “I hope he is dead; if I thought not, I would return to the Louvre and finish him.”

La Hurière still kept knocking.

Soon the window on the first floor opened, and a man appeared in the balcony, in a nightcap and drawers, and unarmed.

“Who’s there?” cried he.

Maurevel made a sign to the Swiss, who retreated into a corner, whilst Coconnas stood close against the wall.

“Ah! Monsieur de Mouy!” said the innkeeper, in his blandest tones, “is that you?”

“Yes; what then?”

“It is he!” said Maurevel, with a thrill of joy.

“Why, sir,” continued La Hurière, “do you not know what is going on? They are murdering the admiral, and massacring all of our religion. Hasten to their assistance; come!”

“Ah!” exclaimed De Mouy, “I feared something was plotted for this night. I ought not to have deserted my worthy comrades. I will come, my friend — wait for me.”

And without closing the window, through which a frightened woman could be heard uttering lamentations and tender entreaties, Monsieur de Mouy got his doublet, his mantle, and his weapons.

“He is coming down! He is coming down!” muttered Maurevel, pale with joy. “Attention, the rest of you!” he whispered to the Swiss.

Then taking the arquebuse from Coconnas he blew on the tinder to make sure that it was still alight.

“Here, La Hurière,” he added, addressing the innkeeper, who had rejoined the main body of the company, “here, take your arquebuse!”

“By Heaven!” exclaimed Coconnas, “the moon is coming out of the clouds to witness this beautiful fight. I would give a great deal if Lambert Mercandon were here, to serve as Monsieur de Mouy’s second.”

“Wait, wait!” said Maurevel; “Monsieur de Mouy alone is equal to a dozen men, and it is likely that we six shall have enough to do to despatch him. Forward, my men!” continued Maurevel, making a sign to the Swiss to stand by the door, in order to strike De Mouy as he came forth.

“Oho!” said Coconnas, as he watched these arrangements; “it appears that this will not come off quite as I expected.”

Already the noise made by De Mouy in withdrawing the bar was heard. The Swiss had left their hiding-place to arrange themselves near the door, Maurevel and La Hurière were going forward on tiptoe, and Coconnas with a dying gleam of gentlemanly feeling was standing where he was, when the young woman who had been for the moment utterly forgotten suddenly appeared on the balcony and uttered a terrible shriek at the sight of the Swiss, Maurevel, and La Hurière.

De Mouy, who had already half opened the door, paused.

“Come back! come back!” cried the young woman. “I see swords glitter, and the match of an arquebuse — there is treachery!”

“Oho!” said the young man; “let us see, then, what all this means.”

And he closed the door, replaced the bar, and went upstairs again.

Maurevel’s order of battle was changed as soon as he saw that De Mouy was not going to come out. The Swiss went and posted themselves at the other corner of the street, and La Hurière, with his arquebuse in his hand, waited till the enemy reappeared at the window.

He did not wait long. De Mouy came forward holding before him two pistols of such respectable length that La Hurière, who was already aiming, suddenly reflected that the Huguenot’s bullets had no farther to fly in reaching the street from the balcony than his had in reaching the balcony.

“Assuredly,” said he to himself, “I may kill this gentleman, but likewise this gentleman may kill me in the same way.”

Now as Maître La Hurière, an innkeeper by profession, was only accidentally a soldier, this reflection determined him to retreat and seek shelter in the corner of the Rue de Braque, far enough away to cause him some difficulty in finding with a certain certainty, especially at night, the line which a bullet from his arquebuse would take in reaching De Mouy.

De Mouy cast a glance around him, and advanced cautiously like a man preparing to fight a duel; but seeing nothing, he exclaimed:

“Why, it appears, my worthy informant, that you have forgotten your arquebuse at my door! Here I am. What do you want with me?”

“Aha!” said Coconnas to himself; “he is certainly a brave fellow!”

“Well,” continued De Mouy, “friends or enemies, whichever you are, do you not see I am waiting?”

La Hurière kept silence, Maurevel made no reply, and the three Swiss remained in covert.

Coconnas waited an instant; then, seeing that no one took part in the conversation begun by La Hurière and continued by De Mouy, he left his station, and advancing into the middle of the street, took off his hat and said:

“Sir, we are not here for an assassination, as you seem to suppose, but for a duel. I am here with one of your enemies, who was desirous of meeting you to end gallantly an old controversy. Eh, by Heaven! come forward, Monsieur de Maurevel, instead of turning your back. The gentleman accepts.”

“Maurevel!” cried De Mouy; “Maurevel, the assassin of my father! Maurevel, the king’s assassin! Ah, by Heaven! Yes, I accept.”

And taking aim at Maurevel, who was about to knock at the Hôtel de Guise to request a reinforcement, he sent a bullet through his hat.

At the noise of the report and Maurevel’s shouts, the guard which had escorted the Duchesse de Nevers came out, accompanied by three or four gentlemen, followed by their pages, and approached the house of young De Mouy’s mistress.

A second pistol-shot, fired into the midst of the troop, killed the soldier next to Maurevel; after which De Mouy, finding himself weaponless, or at least with useless weapons, for his pistols had been fired and his adversaries were beyond the reach of his sword, took shelter behind the balcony gallery.

Meantime here and there windows began to be thrown open in the neighborhood, and according to the pacific or bellicose dispositions of their inhabitants, were barricaded or bristled with muskets and arquebuses.

“Help! my worthy Mercandon,” shouted De Mouy, beckoning to an elderly man who, from a window which had just been thrown open in front of the Hôtel de Guise, was trying to make out the cause of the confusion.

“Is it you who call, Sire de Mouy?” cried the old man: “are they attacking you?”

“Me — you — all the Protestants; and wait — there is the proof!”

That moment De Mouy had seen La Hurière aim his arquebuse at him; it was fired; but the young man had time to stoop, and the ball broke a window above his head.

“Mercandon!” exclaimed Coconnas, who, in his delight at sight of this fray, had forgotten his creditor, but was reminded of him by De Mouy’s apostrophe; “Mercandon, Rue du Chaume — that is it! Ah, he lives there! Good! Each of us will settle accounts with our man.”

And, while the people from the Hôtel de Guise were breaking in the doors of De Mouy’s house, and Maurevel, with a torch in his hand, was trying to set it on fire — while now that the doors were once broken, there was a fearful struggle with a single antagonist who at each rapier-thrust brought down his foe — Coconnas tried, by the help of a paving-stone, to break in Mercandon’s door, and the latter, unmoved by this solitary effort, was doing his best with his arquebuse out of his window.

And now all this dark and deserted quarter was lighted up, as if by open day — peopled like the interior of an ant-hive; for from the Hôtel de Montmorency six or eight Huguenot gentlemen, with their servants and friends, had just made a furious charge, and, supported by the firing from the windows, were beginning to repulse Maurevel’s and the De Guises’ force, who at length were driven back to the place whence they had come.

Coconnas, who had not yet succeeded in smashing Mercandon’s door, though he was working at it with all his might, was caught in this sudden retreat. Placing his back to the wall, and grasping his sword firmly, he began not only to defend himself, but to attack his assailants, with cries so terrible that they were heard above all the uproar. He struck right and left, hitting friends and enemies, until a wide space was cleared around him. As his rapier made a hole in some breast, and the warm blood spurted over his hands and face, he, with dilated eye, expanded nostrils, and clinched teeth, regained the ground lost, and again approached the beleaguered house.

De Mouy, after a terrible combat in the staircase and hall, had finally come out of the burning house like a true hero. In the midst of all the struggle he had not ceased to cry, “Here, Maurevel! — Maurevel, where are you?” insulting him by the most opprobrious epithets.

He at length appeared in the street, supporting on one arm his mistress, half naked and nearly fainting, and holding a poniard between his teeth. His sword, flaming by the sweeping action he gave it, traced circles of white or red, according as the moon glittered on the blade or a flambeau glared on its blood-stained brightness.

Maurevel had fled. La Hurière, driven back by De Mouy as far as Coconnas, who did not recognize him, and received him at sword’s point, was begging for mercy on both sides. At this moment Mercandon perceived him, and knew him, by his white scarf, to be one of the murderers. He fired. La Hurière shrieked, threw up his arms, dropped his arquebuse, and, after having vainly attempted to reach the wall, in order to support himself, fell with his face flat on the earth.

De Mouy took advantage of this circumstance, turned down the Rue de Paradis, and disappeared.

Such had been the resistance of the Huguenots that the De Guise party, quite repulsed, had retired into their hôtel, fearing to be besieged and taken in their own habitation.

Coconnas who, intoxicated with blood and tumult, had reached that degree of excitement when, with the men of the south more especially, courage changes into madness, had not seen or heard anything, and noticed only that there was not such a roar in his ears, and that his hands and face were a little dryer than they had been. Dropping the point of his sword, he saw near him a man lying face downward in a red stream, and around him burning houses.

It was a very short truce, for just as he was approaching this man, whom he recognized as La Hurière, the door of the house he had in vain tried to burst in, opened, and old Mercandon, followed by his son and two nephews, rushed upon him.

“Here he is! here he is!” cried they all, with one voice.

Coconnas was in the middle of the street, and fearing to be surrounded by these four men who assailed him at once, sprang backward with the agility of one of the chamois which he had so often hunted in his native mountains, and in an instant found himself with his back against the wall of the Hôtel de Guise. Once at ease as to not being surprised from behind he put himself in a posture of defence, and said, jestingly:

“Aha, father Mercandon, don’t you know me?”

“Wretch!” cried the old Huguenot, “I know you well; you are engaged against me — me, your father’s friend and companion.”

“And his creditor, are you not?”

“Yes; his creditor, as you say.”

“Well, then,” said Coconnas, “I have come to settle our accounts.”

“Seize him, bind him!” said Mercandon to the young men who accompanied him, and who at his bidding rushed toward the Piedmontese.

“One moment! one moment!” said Coconnas, laughing, “to seize a man you must have a writ, and you have forgotten to secure one from the provost.”

And with these words he crossed his sword with the young man nearest to him and at the first blow cut his wrist.

The wounded man retreated with a howl.

“That will do for one!” said Coconnas.

At the same moment the window under which Coconnas had sought shelter opened noisily. He sprang to one side, fearing an attack from behind; but instead of an enemy he saw a woman; instead of the enemy’s weapon he was prepared to encounter, a nosegay fell at his feet.

“Ah!” he said, “a woman!”

He saluted the lady with his sword, and stooped to pick up the bouquet.

“Be on your guard, brave Catholic! — be on your guard!” cried the lady.

Coconnas rose, but not before the second nephew’s dagger had pierced his cloak, and wounded his other shoulder.

The lady uttered a piercing shriek.

Coconnas thanked her, assured her by a gesture, and then made a pass, which the nephew parried; but at the second thrust, his foot slipped in the blood, and Coconnas, springing at him like a tiger-cat, drove his sword through his breast.

“Good! good! brave cavalier!” exclaimed the lady of the Hôtel de Guise, “good! I will send you succor.”

“Do not give yourself any trouble about that, madame,” was Coconnas’s reply; “rather look on to the end, if it interests you, and see how the Comte Annibal de Coconnas settles the Huguenots.”

At this moment old Mercandon’s son aimed a pistol at close range to Coconnas, and fired. The count fell on his knee. The lady at the window shrieked again; but Coconnas rose instantly; he had knelt only to avoid the bullet, which struck the wall about two feet beneath where the lady was standing.

Almost at the same moment a cry of rage issued from the window of Mercandon’s house, and an old woman, who recognized Coconnas as a Catholic, from his white scarf and cross, hurled a flower-pot at him, which struck him above the knee.

“Capital!” said Coconnas; “one throws flowers at me and at the other, flower-pots; if this goes on, they’ll be tearing houses down!”

“Thanks, mother, thanks!” said the young man.

“Go on, wife, go on,” said old Mercandon; “but take care of yourself.”

“Wait, Monsieur de Coconnas, wait!” said the young woman of the Hôtel de Guise, “I will have them shoot at the windows!”

“Ah! So it is a hell of women, is it?” said Coconnas. “Some of them for me and the others against me! By Heaven! let us put an end to this!”

The scene in fact was much changed and was evidently approaching its climax. Coconnas, who was wounded to be sure, but who had all the vigor of his four and twenty years, was used to arms, and angered rather than weakened by the three or four scratches he had received, now faced only Mercandon and his son: Mercandon, an aged man between sixty and seventy; his son, a youth of sixteen or eighteen, pale, fair-haired and slender, had flung down his pistol which had been discharged and was therefore useless, and was feebly brandishing a sword half as long as the Piedmontese’s. The father, armed only with an unloaded arquebuse and a poniard, was calling for assistance. An old woman — the young man’s mother — in the opposite window held in her hand a piece of marble which she was preparing to hurl.

Coconnas, excited on the one hand by threats, and on the other by encouragements, proud of his two-fold victory, intoxicated with powder and blood, lighted by the reflection of a burning house, elated by the idea that he was fighting under the eyes of a woman whose beauty was as superior as he was sure her rank was high — Coconnas, like the last of the Horatii, felt his strength redouble, and seeing the young man falter, rushed on him and crossed his small weapon with his terrible and bloody rapier. Two strokes sufficed to drive it out of its owner’s hands. Then Mercandon tried to drive Coconnas back, so that the projectiles thrown from the window might be sure to strike him, but Coconnas, to paralyze the double attack of the old man, who tried to stab him with his dagger, and the mother of the young man, who was endeavoring to break his skull with a stone she was ready to throw, seized his adversary by the body, presenting him to all the blows, like a shield, and well-nigh strangling him in his Herculean grasp.

“Help! help!” cried the young man; “he is crushing my chest — help! help!”

And his voice grew faint in a low and choking groan.

Then Mercandon ceased to attack, and began to entreat.

“Mercy, mercy! Monsieur de Coconnas, have mercy! — he is my only child!”

“He is my son, my son!” cried the mother; “the hope of our old age! Do not kill him, sir — do not kill him!”

“Really,” cried Coconnas, bursting into laughter, “not kill him! What, pray, did he mean to do to me, with his sword and pistol?”

“Sir,” said Mercandon, clasping his hands, “I have at home your father’s note of hand, I will give it back to you — I have ten thousand crowns of gold, I will give them to you — I have our family jewels, they shall be yours; but do not kill him — do not kill him!”

“And I have my love,” said the lady in the Hôtel de Guise, in a low tone, “and I promise it you.”

Coconnas reflected a moment, and said suddenly:

“Are you a Huguenot?”

“Yes, I am,” murmured the youth.

“Then you must die!” replied Coconnas, frowning and putting to his adversary’s breast his keen and glittering dagger.

“Die!” cried the old man; “my poor child die!”

And the mother’s shriek resounded so pitifully and loud that for a moment it shook the Piedmontese’s firm resolution.

“Oh, Madame la Duchesse!” cried the father, turning toward the lady at the Hôtel de Guise, “intercede for us, and every morning and evening you shall be remembered in our prayers.”

“Then let him be a convert,” said the lady.

“I am a Protestant,” said the boy.

“Then die!” exclaimed Coconnas, lifting his dagger; “die! since you will not accept the life which those lovely lips offer to you.”

Mercandon and his wife saw the blade of that deadly weapon gleam like lightning above the head of their son.

“My son Olivier,” shrieked his mother, “abjure, abjure!”

“Abjure, my dear boy!” cried Mercandon, going on his knees to Coconnas; “do not leave us alone on the earth!”

“Abjure all together,” said Coconnas; “for one Credo, three souls and one life.”

“I am willing,” said the youth.

“We are willing!” cried Mercandon and his wife.

“On your knees, then,” said Coconnas, “and let your son repeat after me, word for word, the prayer I shall say.”

The father obeyed first.

“I am ready,” said the son, also kneeling.

Coconnas then began to repeat in Latin the words of the Credo. But whether from chance or calculation, young Olivier knelt close to where his sword had fallen. Scarcely did he see this weapon within his reach than, not ceasing to repeat the words which Coconnas dictated, he stretched out his hand to take it up. Coconnas watched the movement, although he pretended not to see it; but at the moment when the young man touched the handle of the sword with his fingers he rushed on him, knocked him over, exclaiming, “Ah, traitor!” and plunged his dagger into his throat.

The youth uttered one cry, raised himself convulsively on his knee, and fell dead.

“Ah, ruffian!” shrieked Mercandon, “you slay us to rob us of the hundred rose nobles you owe us.”

“Faith! no,” said Coconnas, “and the proof,”— and as he said these words he flung at the old man’s feet the purse which his father had given him before his departure to pay his creditor — “and the proof,” he went on to say, “is this money which I give you!”

“And here’s your death!” cried the old woman from the window.

“Take care, M. de Coconnas, take care!” called out the lady at the Hôtel de Guise.

But before Coconnas could turn his head to comply with this advice, or get out of the way of the threat, a heavy mass came hissing through the air, fell on the Piedmontese’s hat, broke his sword, and prostrated him on the pavement; he was overcome, crushed, so that he did not hear the double cry of joy and distress which came from the right and left.

Mercandon instantly rushed, dagger in hand, on Coconnas, now bereft of his senses; but at this moment the door of the Hôtel de Guise opened, and the old man, seeing swords and partisans gleaming, fled, while the lady he had called “Madame la Duchesse,” her beauty terrible in the light of the flames, dazzling with diamonds and other gems, leaned half out of the window, in order to direct the newcomers, pointing her arm toward Coconnas.

“There! there! in front of me — a gentleman in a red doublet. There! — that is he — yes, that is he.”

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