The Queen of Navarre on her return to the Louvre found Gillonne in great excitement. Madame de Sauve had been there in her absence. She had brought a key sent her by the queen mother. It was the key of the room in which Henry was confined. It was evident that the queen mother for some purpose of her own wished the Béarnais to spend that night in Madame de Sauve’s apartment.
Marguerite took the key and turned it over and over; she made Gillonne repeat Madame de Sauve’s every word, weighed them, letter by letter, in her mind, and at length thought she detected Catharine’s plan.
She took pen and ink, and wrote:
“Instead of going to Madame de Sauve to-night, come to the Queen of Navarre.”
She rolled up the paper, put it in the hollow of the key, and ordered Gillonne to slip the key under the king’s door as soon as it was dark.
This first duty having been attended to, Marguerite thought of the wounded man, closed all the doors, entered the closet, and, to her great surprise, found La Mole dressed in all his clothes, torn and blood-stained as they were.
On seeing her he strove to rise, but, still dizzy, could not stand, and fell back upon the sofa which had served for his bed.
“What is the matter, sir?” asked Marguerite; “and why do you thus disobey your physician’s orders? I recommended you rest, and instead of following my advice you do just the contrary.”
“Oh, madame,” said Gillonne, “it is not my fault; I have entreated Monsieur le Comte not to commit this folly, but he declares that nothing shall keep him any longer at the Louvre.”
“Leave the Louvre!” said Marguerite, gazing with astonishment at the young man, who cast down his eyes. “Why, it is impossible — you cannot walk; you are pale and weak; your knees tremble. Only a few hours ago the wound in your shoulder was still bleeding.”
“Madame,” said the young man, “as earnestly as I thanked your majesty for having given me shelter, as earnestly do I pray you now to suffer me to depart.”
“I scarcely know what to call such a resolution,” said Marguerite; “it is worse than ingratitude.”
“Oh,” cried La Mole, clasping his hands, “think me not ungrateful; my gratitude will cease only with my life.”
“It will not last long, then,” said Marguerite, moved at these words, the sincerity of which it was impossible to doubt; “for your wounds will open, and you will die from loss of blood, or you will be recognized for a Huguenot and killed ere you have gone fifty yards in the street.”
“Nevertheless I must leave the Louvre,” murmured La Mole.
“Must,” returned Marguerite, fixing her serene, inscrutable eyes upon him; then turning rather pale she added, “ah, yes; forgive me, sir, I understand; doubtless there is some one outside the Louvre who is anxiously waiting for you. You are right, Monsieur de la Mole; it is natural, and I understand it. Why didn’t you say so at first? or rather, why didn’t I think of it myself? It is duty in the exercise of hospitality to protect one’s guest’s affections as well as to cure his wounds, and to care for the spirit just as one cares for the body.”
“Alas, madame,” said La Mole, “you are laboring under a strange mistake. I am well nigh alone in the world, and altogether so in Paris, where no one knows me. My assassin is the first man I have spoken to in this city; your majesty the first woman who has spoken to me.”
“Then,” said Marguerite, “why would you go?”
“Because,” replied La Mole, “last night you got no rest, and to-night”—
“Gillonne,” said she, “it is already evening and time to deliver that key.”
Gillonne smiled, and left the room.
“But,” continued Marguerite, “if you are alone in Paris, without friends, what will you do?”
“Madame, I soon shall have friends enough, for while I was pursued I thought of my mother, who was a Catholic; methought I saw her with a cross in her hand gliding before me toward the Louvre, and I vowed that if God should save my life I would embrace my mother’s religion. Madame, God did more than save my life, he sent me one of his angels to make me love life.”
“But you cannot walk; before you have gone a hundred steps you will faint away.”
“Madame, I have made the experiment in the closet, I walk slowly and painfully, it is true; but let me get as far as the Place du Louvre; once outside, let befall what will.”
Marguerite leaned her head on her hand and sank into deep thought.
“And the King of Navarre,” said she, significantly, “you no longer speak of him? In changing your religion, have you also changed your desire to enter his service?”
“Madame,” replied La Mole, growing pale, “you have just hit upon the actual reason of my departure. I know that the King of Navarre is exposed to the greatest danger, and that all your majesty’s influence as a daughter of France will barely suffice to save his life.”
“What do you mean, sir,” exclaimed Marguerite, “and what danger do you refer to?”
“Madame,” replied La Mole, with some hesitation, “one can hear everything from the closet where I am.”
“’Tis true,” said Marguerite to herself; “Monsieur de Guise told me so before.”
“Well,” added she, aloud, “what did you hear?”
“In the first place, the conversation between your majesty and your brother.”
“With François?” said Marguerite, changing color.
“Yes, madame, with the Duc d’Alençon; and then after you went out I heard what Gillonne and Madame de Sauve said.”
“And these two conversations”—
“Yes, madame; married scarcely a week, you love your husband; your husband will come, in his turn, in the same way that the Duc d’Alençon and Madame de Sauve came. He will confide his secrets to you. Well, then, I must not overhear them; I should be indiscreet — I cannot — I must not — I will not be!”
By the tone in which La Mole uttered these last words, by the anxiety expressed in his voice, by the embarrassment shown in his eyes, Marguerite was enlightened as by a sudden revelation.
“Aha!” said she, “so you have heard everything that has been said in this room?”
These words were uttered in a sigh.
“And you wish to depart to-night, this evening, to avoid hearing any more?”
“This moment, if it please your majesty to allow me to go.”
“Poor fellow!” said Marguerite, with a strange accent of tender pity.
Astonished by such a gentle reply when he was expecting a rather forcible outburst, La Mole timidly raised his head; his eyes met Marguerite’s and were riveted as by a magnetic power on their clear and limpid depths.
“So then you feel you cannot keep a secret, Monsieur de la Mole?” said Marguerite in a soft voice as she stood leaning on the back of her chair, half hidden in the shadow of a thick tapestry and enjoying the felicity of easily reading his frank and open soul while remaining impenetrable herself.
“Madame,” said La Mole, “I have a miserable disposition: I distrust myself, and the happiness of another gives me pain.”
“Whose happiness?” asked Marguerite, smiling. “Ah, yes — the King of Navarre’s! Poor Henry!”
“You see,” cried La Mole, passionately, “he is happy.”
“Yes, for your majesty is sorry for him.”
Marguerite crumpled up the silk of her purse and smoothed out the golden fringe.
“So then you decline to see the King of Navarre?” said she; “you have made up your mind; you are decided?”
“I fear I should be troublesome to his majesty just at the present time.”
“But the Duc d’Alençon, my brother?”
“Oh, no, madame!” cried La Mole, “the Duc d’Alençon even still less than the King of Navarre.”
“Why so?” asked Marguerite, so stirred that her voice trembled as she spoke.
“Because, although I am already too bad a Huguenot to be a faithful servant of the King of Navarre, I am not a sufficiently good Catholic to be friends with the Duc d’Alençon and Monsieur de Guise.”
This time Marguerite cast down her eyes, for she felt the very depths of her heart stirred by what he said, and yet she could not have told whether his reply was meant to give her joy or pain.
At this moment Gillonne came back. Marguerite asked her a question with a glance; Gillonne’s answer, also conveyed by her eyes, was in the affirmative. She had succeeded in getting the key to the King of Navarre.
Marguerite turned her eyes toward La Mole, who stood before her, his head drooping on his breast, pale, like one suffering alike in mind and in body.
“Monsieur de la Mole is proud,” said she, “and I hesitate to make him a proposition he will doubtless reject.”
La Mole rose, took one step toward Marguerite, and was about to bow low before her to signify that he was at her service; but an intense, keen, burning pang forced the tears from his eyes, and conscious that he was in danger of falling, he clutched a piece of tapestry and clung to it.
“Don’t you see, sir,” cried Marguerite, springing to him and supporting him in her arms, “don’t you see that you still need me?”
A scarcely perceptible movement passed over La Mole’s lips.
“Oh, yes!” he whispered, “like the air I breathe, like the light I see!”
At this moment three knocks were heard at Marguerite’s door.
“Do you hear, madame?” cried Gillonne, alarmed.
“Already!” exclaimed Marguerite.
“Shall I open?”
“Wait! perhaps it is the King of Navarre.”
“Oh, madame!” cried La Mole, recalled to himself by these words, which the queen had spoken in such a low tone that she hoped Gillonne only had heard them, “on my knees I entreat you, let me depart. Yes, dead or alive! madame, have pity on me! Oh! you do not answer. I will tell you all, and then you will drive me away, I hope.”
“Be silent,” said Marguerite, who found an indescribable charm in the young man’s reproaches; “be silent.”
“Madame,” replied La Mole, who did not find that anger he expected in the voice of the queen, “madame, I tell you again, everything is audible in this closet. Oh, do not make me perish by tortures more cruel than the executioner could inflict”—
“Silence! silence!” said Marguerite.
“Oh, madame, you are merciless! you will not hear me, you will not understand me. Know, then, that I love you”—
“Silence! I tell you,” interrupted Marguerite, placing on his mouth her warm, perfumed hand, which he seized between both of his and pressed eagerly to his lips.
“But”— he whispered.
“Be silent, child — who is this rebel that refuses to obey his queen?”
Then darting out of the closet, she shut the door and stood leaning against the wall pressing her trembling hand to her heart, as if to control it.
Gillonne left the room, and an instant after, the fine, intellectual, but rather anxious countenance of the King of Navarre appeared behind the tapestry.
“You have sent for me, madame?”
“Yes, sire. Your majesty received my letter?”
“And not without some surprise, I confess,” said Henry, looking round with distrust, which, however, almost instantly vanished from his mind.
“And not without some apprehension,” added Marguerite.
“I confess it, madame! But still, surrounded as I am by deadly enemies, by friends still more dangerous, perhaps, than my open foes, I recollected that one evening I had seen a noble generosity shining in your eyes —’twas the night of our marriage; that one other evening I had seen the star of courage beaming in them —’twas yesterday, the day fixed for my death.”
“Well, sire?” said Marguerite, smiling, while Henry seemed striving to read her heart.
“Well, madame,” returned the king, “thinking of these things, I said to myself, as I read your letter bidding me come: ‘Without friends, for he is a disarmed prisoner, the King of Navarre has but one means of dying nobly, of dying a death that will be recorded in history. It is to die betrayed by his wife; and I am come’"—
“Sire,” replied Marguerite, “you will change your tone when you learn that all this is the work of a woman who loves you — and whom you love.”
Henry started back at these words, and his keen gray eyes under their black lashes were fixed on the queen with curiosity.
“Oh, reassure yourself, sire,” said the queen, smiling; “I am not that person.”
“But, madame,” said Henry, “you sent me this key, and this is your writing.”
“It is my writing, I confess; the letter came from me, but the key is a different matter. Let it satisfy you to know that it has passed through the hands of four women before it reached you.”
“Of four women?” exclaimed Henry in astonishment.
“Yes,” said Marguerite; “Queen Catharine’s, Madame de Sauve’s, Gillonne’s, and mine.”
Henry pondered over this enigma.
“Now let us talk reasonably, sire,” said Marguerite, “and above all let us speak frankly. Common report has it that your majesty has consented to abjure. Is it true?”
“That report is mistaken; I have not yet consented.”
“But your mind is made up?”
“That is to say, I am deliberating. When one is twenty and almost a king, ventre saint gris! there are many things well worth a mass.”
“And among other things life, for instance!”
Henry could not repress a fleeting smile.
“You do not tell me your whole thought,” said Marguerite.
“I have reservations for my allies, madame; and you know we are but allies as yet; if indeed you were both my ally — and”—
“And your wife, sire?”
“Faith! yes, and my wife”—
“Why, then, it might be different, and I perhaps might resolve to remain King of the Huguenots, as they call me. But as it is, I must be content to live.”
Marguerite looked at Henry in such a peculiar manner that it would have awakened suspicion in a less acute mind than his.
“And are you quite sure of succeeding even in that?” she asked.
“Why, almost; but you know, in this world nothing is certain.”
“It is true,” replied Marguerite, “your majesty shows such moderation and professes such disinterestedness, that after having renounced your crown, after having renounced your religion, you will probably renounce your alliance with a daughter of France; at least this is hoped for.”
These words bore a significance which sent a thrill through Henry’s whole frame; but instantaneously repressing the emotion, he said:
“Deign to recollect, madame, that at this moment I am not my own master; I shall therefore do what the King of France orders me. If I were consulted the least in the world on this question, affecting as it does my throne, my honor, and my life, rather than build my future on this forced marriage of ours, I should prefer to enter a monastery or turn gamekeeper.”
This calm resignation, this renunciation of the world, alarmed Marguerite. She thought perhaps this rupture of the marriage had been agreed upon by Charles IX., Catharine, and the King of Navarre. Why should she not be taken as a dupe or a victim? Because she was sister of the one and daughter of the other? Experience had taught her that this relationship gave her no ground on which to build her security.
So ambition was gnawing at this young woman’s, or rather this young queen’s heart, and she was too far above vulgar frailties to be drawn into any selfish meanness; in the case of every woman, however mediocre she may be, when she loves her love has none of these petty trials, for true love is also an ambition.
“Your majesty,” said Marguerite, with a sort of mocking disdain, “has no confidence in the star that shines over the head of every king!”
“Ah,” said Henry, “I vainly look for mine now, I cannot see it; ’tis hidden by the storm which now threatens me!”
“And suppose a woman’s breath were to dispel this tempest, and make the star reappear, brilliant as ever?”
“Do you deny the existence of this woman?”
“No, I deny her power.”
“You mean her will?”
“I said her power, and I repeat, her power. A woman is powerful only when love and interest are combined within her in equal degrees; if either sentiment predominates, she is, like Achilles, vulnerable; now as to this woman, if I mistake not, I cannot rely on her love.”
Marguerite made no reply.
“Listen,” said Henry; “at the last stroke of the bell of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois you must have thought of regaining your liberty, sacrificed for the purpose of destroying my followers. My concern was to save my life: that was the most essential thing. We lose Navarre, indeed; but what is that compared with your being enabled to speak aloud in your room, which you dared not do when you had some one listening to you in yonder closet?”
Deeply absorbed as she was in her thoughts, Marguerite could not refrain from smiling. The king rose and prepared to seek his own apartment, for it was some time after eleven, and every one at the Louvre was, or seemed to be, asleep.
Henry took three steps toward the door, then suddenly stopped as if for the first time recollecting the motive of his visit to the queen.
“By the way, madame,” said he, “had you not something to communicate to me? or did you desire to give me an opportunity of thanking you for the reprieve which your brave presence in the King’s armory brought me? In truth it was just in time, madame; I cannot deny it, you appeared like a goddess of antiquity, in the nick of time to save my life.”
“Unfortunate man!” cried Marguerite, in a muffled voice, and seizing her husband’s arm, “do you not see that nothing is saved, neither your liberty, your crown, nor your life? Infatuated madman! Poor madman! Did you, then, see nothing in my letter but a rendezvous? Did you believe that Marguerite, indignant at your coldness, desired reparation?”
“I confess, madame,” said Henry in astonishment, “I confess”—
Marguerite shrugged her shoulders with an expression impossible to describe.
At this instant a strange sound was heard, like a sharp insistent scratching at the secret door.
Marguerite led the king toward the little door.
“Listen,” said she.
“The queen mother is leaving her room,” said a trembling voice outside, which Henry instantly recognized as Madame de Sauve’s.
“Where is she going?” asked Marguerite.
“She is coming to your majesty.”
And then the rustling of a silk gown, growing fainter, showed that Madame de Sauve was hastening rapidly away.
“Oho!” exclaimed Henry.
“I was sure of this,” said Marguerite.
“And I,” replied Henry, “feared it, and this is the proof of it.”
And half opening his black velvet doublet, he showed the queen that he had beneath it a shirt of mail, and a long Milan poniard, which instantly glittered in his hand like a viper in the sun.
“As if you needed weapon and cuirass here!” cried Marguerite. “Quick, quick, sire! conceal that dagger; ’tis the queen mother, indeed, but the queen mother only.”
“Silence! — I hear her.”
And putting her mouth close to Henry’s ear, she whispered something which the young king heard with attention mingled with astonishment. Then he hid himself behind the curtains of the bed.
Meantime, with the quickness of a panther, Marguerite sprang to the closet, where La Mole was waiting in a fever of excitement, opened the door, found the young man, and pressing his hand in the darkness —“Silence,” said she, approaching her lips so near that he felt her warm and balmy breath; “silence!”
Then returning to her chamber, she tore off her head-dress, cut the laces of her dress with her poniard, and sprang into bed.
It was time — the key turned in the lock. Catharine had a key for every door in the Louvre.
“Who is there?” cried Marguerite, as Catharine placed on guard at the door the four gentlemen by whom she was attended.
And, as if frightened by this sudden intrusion into her chamber, Marguerite sprang out from behind the curtains of her bed in a white dressing-gown, and then recognizing Catharine, came to kiss her hand with such well-feigned surprise that the wily Florentine herself could not help being deceived by it.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53