Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 11.

The Hawthorn of the Cemetery of the Innocents.

As soon as Marguerite reached her own apartments she tried in vain to divine the words which Catharine de Médicis had whispered to Charles IX., and which had cut short the terrible council of life and death which was taking place.

She spent a part of the morning in attending to La Mole, and the rest in trying to guess the enigma, which her mind could not discover.

The King of Navarre remained a prisoner in the Louvre, the persecution of the Huguenots went on hotter than ever. The terrible night was followed by a day of massacre still more horrible. No longer the bells rang the tocsin, but Te Deums, and the echoes of these joyous notes, resounding amid fire and slaughter, were perhaps even more lugubrious in sunlight than had been the last night’s knell sounding in darkness. This was not all. A strange thing had happened: a hawthorn-tree, which had blossomed in the spring, and which, as usual, had lost its odorous flowers in the month of June, had blossomed again during the night, and the Catholics, who saw a miracle in this event, spread the report of the miracle far and wide, thus making God their accomplice; and with cross and banners they marched in a procession to the Cemetery of the Innocents, where this hawthorn-tree was blooming.

This method of acquiescence which Heaven seemed to show in the massacres redoubled the ardor of the assassins, and while every street, every square, every alley-way of the city continued to present a scene of desolation, the Louvre had become the common tomb for all Protestants who had been shut up there when the signal was given. The King of Navarre, the Prince de Condé, and La Mole were the only survivors.

Assured as to La Mole, whose wounds, as she had declared the evening before, were severe but not dangerous, Marguerite’s mind was now occupied with one single idea: that was to save her husband’s life, which was still threatened. No doubt the first sentiment which actuated the wife was one of generous pity for a man for whom, as the Béarnais himself had said, she had sworn, if not love, at least alliance; but there was, beside, another sentiment not so pure, which had penetrated the queen’s heart.

Marguerite was ambitious, and had foreseen almost the certainty of royalty in her marriage with Henry de Bourbon. Navarre, though beset on one side by the kings of France and on the other by the kings of Spain, who strip by strip had absorbed half of its territory, might become a real kingdom with the French Huguenots for subjects, if only Henry de Bourbon should fulfil the hopes which the courage shown by him on the infrequent occasions vouchsafed him of drawing his sword had aroused.

Marguerite, with her keen, lofty intellect, foresaw and reckoned on all this. So if she lost Henry she lost not only a husband, but a throne.

As she was absorbed in these reflections she heard some one knocking at the door of the secret corridor. She started, for only three persons came by that door — the King, the queen mother, and the Duc d’Alençon. She opened the closet door, made a gesture of silence to Gillonne and La Mole, and then went to let her visitor in.

It was the Duc d’Alençon.

The young prince had not been seen since the night before. For a moment, Marguerite had conceived the idea of asking his intercession for the King of Navarre, but a terrible idea restrained her. The marriage had taken place against his wishes. François detested Henry, and had evinced his neutrality toward the Béarnais only because he was convinced that Henry and his wife had remained strangers to each other. A mark of interest shown by Marguerite in her husband might thrust one of the three threatening poniards into his heart instead of turning it aside. Marguerite, therefore, on perceiving the young prince, shuddered more than she had shuddered at seeing the King or even the queen mother. Nevertheless no one could have told by his appearance that anything unusual was taking place either in the city or at the Louvre. He was dressed with his usual elegance. His clothes and linen breathed of those perfumes which Charles IX. despised, but of which the Duc d’Anjou and he made continual use.

A practised eye like Marguerite’s, however, could detect the fact that in spite of his rather unusual pallor and in spite of a slight trembling in his hands — delicate hands, as carefully treated as a lady’s — he felt a deep sense of joy in the bottom of his heart. His entrance was in no wise different from usual. He went to his sister to kiss her, but Marguerite, instead of offering him her cheek, as she would have done had it been King Charles or the Duc d’Anjou, made a courtesy and allowed him to kiss her forehead.

The Duc d’Alençon sighed and touched his bloodless lips to her brow.

Then taking a seat he began to tell his sister the sanguinary news of the night, the admiral’s lingering and terrible death, Téligny’s instantaneous death caused by a bullet. He took his time and emphasized all the bloody details of that night, with that love of blood characteristic of himself and his two brothers; Marguerite allowed him to tell his story.

“You did not come to tell me this only, brother?” she then asked.

The Duc d’Alençon smiled.

“You have something else to say to me?”

“No,” replied the duke; “I am waiting.”

“Waiting! for what?”

“Have you not told me, dearest Marguerite,” said the duke, drawing his armchair close up to his sister’s, “that your marriage with the King of Navarre was contracted against your wishes?”

“Yes, no doubt. I did not know the Prince of Béarn when he was proposed to me as a husband.”

“And after you came to know him, did you not tell me that you felt no love for him?”

“I told you so; it is true.”

“Was it not your opinion that this marriage would make you unhappy?”

“My dear François,” said Marguerite, “when a marriage is not the height of happiness it is almost always the depth of wretchedness.”

“Well, then, my dear Marguerite, as I said to you — I am waiting.”

“But what are you waiting for?”

“For you to display your joy!”

“What have I to be joyful for?”

“The unexpected chance which offers itself for you to resume your liberty.”

“My liberty?” replied Marguerite, who was determined to compel the prince to express his whole thought.

“Yes; your liberty! You will now be separated from the King of Navarre.”

“Separated!” said Marguerite, fastening her eyes on the young prince.

The Duc d’Alençon tried to endure his sister’s look, but his eyes soon avoided hers with embarrassment.

“Separated!” repeated Marguerite; “let us talk this over, brother, for I should like to understand all you mean, and how you propose to separate us.”

“Why,” murmured the duke, “Henry is a Huguenot.”

“No doubt; but he made no secret of his religion, and that was known when we were married.”

“Yes; but since your marriage, sister,” asked the duke, involuntarily allowing a ray of joy to shine upon his face, “what has Henry been doing?”

“Why, you know better than any one, François, for he has spent his days almost constantly in your society, either hunting or playing mall or tennis.”

“Yes, his days, no doubt,” replied the duke; “his days — but his nights?”

Marguerite was silent; it was now her turn to cast down her eyes.

“His nights,” persisted the Duc d’Alençon, “his nights?”

“Well?” inquired Marguerite, feeling that it was requisite that she should say something in reply.

“Well, he has been spending them with Madame de Sauve!”

“How do you know that?” exclaimed Marguerite.

“I know it because I have an interest in knowing it,” replied the young prince, growing pale and picking the embroidery of his sleeves.

Marguerite began to understand what Catharine had whispered to Charles, but pretended to remain in ignorance.

“Why do you tell me this, brother?” she replied, with a well-affected air of melancholy; “was it to remind me that no one here loves me or takes my part, neither those whom nature gave me as protectors nor the man whom the Church gave me as my husband?”

“You are unjust,” said the Duc d’Alençon, drawing his armchair still nearer to his sister, “I love you and protect you!”

“Brother,” said Marguerite, looking at him sharply, “have you anything to say to me from the queen mother?”

“I! you mistake, sister. I swear to you — what can make you think that?”

“What can make me think that? — why, because you are breaking off the intimacy that binds you to my husband, because you are abandoning the cause of the King of Navarre.”

“The cause of the King of Navarre!” replied the Duc d’Alençon, wholly at his wits’ end.

“Yes, certainly. Now look here, François; let us speak frankly. You have come to an agreement a score of times; you cannot raise yourself or even hold your own except by mutual help. This alliance”—

“Has now become impossible, sister,” interrupted the Duc d’Alençon.

“And why so?”

“Because the King has designs on your husband! Pardon me, when I said your husband, I erred; I meant Henry of Navarre. Our mother has seen through the whole thing. I entered into an alliance with the Huguenots because I believed the Huguenots were in favor; but now they are killing the Huguenots, and in another week there will not remain fifty in the whole kingdom. I gave my hand to the King of Navarre because he was — your husband; but now he is not your husband. What can you say to that — you who are not only the loveliest woman in France, but have the clearest head in the kingdom?”

“Why, I have this to say,” replied Marguerite, “I know our brother Charles; I saw him yesterday in one of those fits of frenzy, every one of which shortens his life ten years. I have to say that unfortunately these attacks are very frequent, and that thus, in all probability, our brother Charles has not very long to live; and, finally, I have to say that the King of Poland has just died, and the question of electing a prince of the house of France in his stead is much discussed; and when circumstances are thus, it is not the moment to abandon allies who, in the moment of struggle, might support us with the strength of a nation and the power of a kingdom.”

“And you!” exclaimed the duke, “do you not act much more treasonably to me in preferring a foreigner to your own brother?”

“Explain yourself, François! In what have I acted treasonably to you?”

“You yesterday begged the life of the King of Navarre from King Charles.”

“Well?” said Marguerite, with pretended innocence.

The duke rose hastily, paced round the chamber twice or thrice with a bewildered air, then came back and took Marguerite’s hand.

It was cold and unresponsive.

“Good-by, sister!” he said at last. “You will not understand me; do not, therefore, complain of whatever misfortunes may happen to you.”

Marguerite grew pale, but remained motionless in her place. She saw the Duc d’Alençon go away, without making any attempt to detain him; but he had scarcely more than disappeared down the corridor when he returned.

“Listen, Marguerite,” he said, “I had forgotten to tell you one thing; that is, that by this time tomorrow the King of Navarre will be dead.”

Marguerite uttered a cry, for the idea that she was the instrument of assassination caused in her a terror she could not subdue.

“And you will not prevent his death?” she said; “you will not save your best and most faithful ally?”

“Since yesterday the King of Navarre is no longer my ally.”

“Who is, pray?”

“Monsieur de Guise. By destroying the Huguenots, Monsieur de Guise has become the king of the Catholics.”

“And does a son of Henry II. recognize a duke of Lorraine as his king?”

“You are in a bad frame of mind, Marguerite, and you do not understand anything.”

“I confess that I try in vain to read your thoughts.”

“Sister, you are of as good a house as the Princesse de Porcian; De Guise is no more immortal than the King of Navarre. Now, then, Marguerite, suppose three things, three possibilities: first, suppose monsieur is chosen King of Poland; the second, that you loved me as I love you; well, I am King of France, and you are — queen of the Catholics.”

Marguerite hid her face in her hands, overwhelmed at the depth of the views of this youth, whom no one at court thought possessed of even common understanding.

“But,” she asked after a moment’s silence, “I hope you are not jealous of Monsieur le Duc de Guise as you were of the King of Navarre!”

“What is done is done,” said the Duc d’Alençon, in a muffled voice, “and if I had to be jealous of the Duc de Guise, well, then, I was!”

“There is only one thing that can prevent this capital plan from succeeding, brother.”

“And what is that?”

“That I no longer love the Duc de Guise.”

“And whom, pray, do you love?”

“No one.”

The Duc d’Alençon looked at Marguerite with the astonishment of a man who takes his turn in failing to understand, and left the room, pressing his icy hand on his forehead, which ached to bursting.

Marguerite remained alone and thoughtful; the situation was beginning to take a clear and definite shape before her eyes; the King had permitted Saint Bartholomew’s, Queen Catharine and the Duc de Guise had put it into execution. The Duc de Guise and the Duc d’Alençon were about to join partnership so as to get the greatest possible advantage. The death of the King of Navarre would be a natural result of this great catastrophe. With the King of Navarre out of the way, his kingdom would be seized upon, Marguerite would be left a throneless, impotent widow with no other prospect before her than a nunnery, where she would not even have the sad consolation of weeping for a consort who had never been her husband.

She was still in the same position when Queen Catharine sent to ask if she would not like to go with her and the whole court on a pious visitation to the hawthorn of the Cemetery of the Innocents. Marguerite’s first impulse was to refuse to take part in this cavalcade. But the thought that this excursion might possibly give her a chance to learn something new about the King of Navarre’s fate decided her to go. So she sent word that if they would have a palfrey ready for her she would willingly go with their majesties.

Five minutes later a page came to ask if she was ready to go down, for the procession was preparing to start.

Marguerite warned Gillonne by a gesture to look after the wounded man and so went downstairs.

The King, the queen mother, Tavannes, and the principal Catholics were already mounted. Marguerite cast a rapid glance over the group, which was composed of about a score of persons; the King of Navarre was not of the party.

Madame de Sauve was there. Marguerite exchanged a glance with her, and was convinced that her husband’s mistress had something to tell her.

They rode down the Rue de l’Astruce and entered into the Rue Saint Honoré. As the populace caught sight of the King, Queen Catharine, and the principal Catholics they flocked together and followed the procession like a rising tide, and shouts rent the air.

Vive le Roi!

Vive la Messe.

“Death to the Huguenots!”

These acclamations were accompanied by the waving of ensanguined swords and smoking arquebuses, which showed the part each had taken in the awful work just accomplished.

When they reached the top of the Rue des Prouvelles they met some men who were dragging a headless carcass. It was the admiral’s. The men were going to hang it by the feet at Montfaucon.

They entered the Cemetery des Saints Innocents by the gate facing the Rue des Chaps, now known as the Rue des Déchargeurs; the clergy, notified in advance of the visit of the King and the queen mother, were waiting for their majesties to make them speeches.

Madame de Sauve took advantage of a moment when Catharine was listening to one of the discourses to approach the Queen of Navarre, and beg leave to kiss her hand. Marguerite extended her arm toward her, and Madame de Sauve, as she kissed the queen’s hand, slipped a tiny roll of paper up her sleeve.

Madame de Sauve drew back quickly and with clever dissimulation; yet Catharine perceived it, and turned round just as the maid of honor was kissing Marguerite’s hand.

The two women saw her glance, which penetrated them like a flash of lightning, but both remained unmoved; only Madame de Sauve left Marguerite and resumed her place near Catharine.

When Catharine had finished replying to the address which had just been made to her she smiled and beckoned the Queen of Navarre to go to her.

“Eh, my daughter,” said the queen mother, in her Italian patois, “so you are on intimate terms with Madame de Sauve, are you?”

Marguerite smiled in turn, and gave to her lovely countenance the bitterest expression she could, and replied:

“Yes, mother; the serpent came to bite my hand!”

“Aha!” replied Catharine, with a smile; “you are jealous, I think!”

“You are mistaken, madame,” replied Marguerite; “I am no more jealous of the King of Navarre than the King of Navarre is in love with me, but I know how to distinguish my friends from my enemies. I like those that like me, and detest those that hate me. Otherwise, madame, should I be your daughter?”

Catharine smiled so as to make Marguerite understand that if she had had any suspicion it had vanished.

Moreover, at that instant the arrival of other pilgrims attracted the attention of the august throng.

The Duc de Guise came with a troop of gentlemen all warm still from recent carnage. They escorted a richly decorated litter, which stopped in front of the King.

“The Duchesse de Nevers!” cried Charles IX., “Ah! let that lovely robust Catholic come and receive our compliments. Why, they tell me, cousin, that from your own window you have been hunting Huguenots, and that you killed one with a stone.”

The Duchesse de Nevers blushed exceedingly red.

“Sire,” she said in a low tone, and kneeling before the King, “on the contrary, it was a wounded Catholic whom I had the good fortune to rescue.”

“Good — good, my cousin! there are two ways of serving me: one is by exterminating my enemies, the other is by rescuing my friends. One does what one can, and I am certain that if you could have done more you would!”

While this was going on, the populace, seeing the harmony existing between the house of Lorraine and Charles IX., shouted exultantly:

Vive le Roi!

Vive le Duc de Guise!

Vive la Messe!

“Do you return to the Louvre with us, Henriette?” inquired the queen mother of the lovely duchess.

Marguerite touched her friend on the elbow, and she, understanding the sign, replied:

“No, madame, unless your majesty desire it; for I have business in the city with her majesty the Queen of Navarre.”

“And what are you going to do together?” inquired Catharine.

“To see some very rare and curious Greek books found at an old Protestant pastor’s, and which have been taken to the Tower of Saint Jacques la Boucherie,” replied Marguerite.

“You would do much better to see the last Huguenots flung into the Seine from the top of the Pont des Meuniers,” said Charles IX.; “that is the place for all good Frenchmen.”

“We will go, if it be your Majesty’s desire,” replied the Duchesse de Nevers.

Catharine cast a look of distrust on the two young women. Marguerite, on the watch, remarked it, and turning round uneasily, looked about her.

This assumed or real anxiety did not escape Catharine.

“What are you looking for?”

“I am seeking — I do not see”— she replied.

“Whom are you seeking? Who is it you fail to see?”

“La Sauve,” said Marguerite; “can she have returned to the Louvre?”

“Did I not say you were jealous?” said Catharine, in her daughter’s ear. “Oh, bestia! Come, come, Henriette,” she added, shrugging her shoulders, “begone, and take the Queen of Navarre with you.”

Marguerite pretended to be still looking about her; then, turning to her friend, she said in a whisper:

“Take me away quickly; I have something of the greatest importance to say to you.”

The duchess courtesied to the King and queen mother, and then, bowing low before the Queen of Navarre:

“Will your majesty deign to come into my litter?”

“Willingly, only you will have to take me back to the Louvre.”

“My litter, like my servants and myself, are at your majesty’s orders.”

Queen Marguerite entered the litter, while Catharine and her gentlemen returned to the Louvre just as they had come. But during the route it was observed that the queen mother kept talking to the King, pointing several times to Madame de Sauve, and at each time the King laughed — as Charles IX. laughed; that is, with a laugh more sinister than a threat.

As soon as Marguerite felt the litter in motion, and had no longer to fear Catharine’s searching eyes, she quickly drew from her sleeve Madame de Sauve’s note and read as follows:

I have received orders to send to-night to the King of Navarre two keys; one is that of the room in which he is shut up, and the other is the key of my chamber; when once he has reached my apartment, I am enjoined to keep him there until six o’clock in the morning.

Let your majesty reflect — let your majesty decide. Let your majesty esteem my life as nothing.

“There is now no doubt,” murmured Marguerite, “and the poor woman is the tool of which they wish to make use to destroy us all. But we will see if the Queen Margot, as my brother Charles calls me, is so easily to be made a nun of.”

“Tell me, whom is the letter from?” asked the Duchesse de Nevers.

“Ah, duchess, I have so many things to say to you!” replied Marguerite, tearing the note into a thousand bits.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53