The Duc de Guise escorted his sister-inlaw, the Duchess de Nevers, to her hôtel in the Rue du Chaume, facing the Rue de Brac, and after he had put her into the hands of her women, he went to his own apartment to change his dress, put on a night cloak, and armed himself with one of those short, keen poniards which are called “foi de gentilhomme,” and were worn without swords; but as he took it off the table on which it lay, he perceived a small billet between the blade and the scabbard.
He opened it, and read as follows:
“I hope M. de Guise will not return to the Louvre to-night; or if he does, that he will at least take the precaution to arm himself with a good coat of mail and a proved sword.”
“Aha!” said the duke, addressing his valet, “this is a singular warning, Maître Robin. Now be kind enough to tell me who has been here during my absence.”
“Only one person, monseigneur.”
“Monsieur du Gast.”
“Aha! In fact, methinks I recognize the handwriting. And you are sure that Du Gast came? You saw him?”
“More than that, monseigneur; I spoke with him.”
“Very good; then I will follow his advice — my steel jacket and my sword.”
The valet, accustomed to these changes of costume, brought both. The duke put on his jacket, which was made of rings of steel so fine that it was scarcely thicker than velvet; he then drew on over his coat of mail his small clothes and a doublet of gray and silver, his favorite colors, put on a pair of long boots which reached to the middle of his thighs, covered his head with a velvet toque unadorned with feathers or precious stones, threw over his shoulders a dark-colored cloak, hung a dagger by his side, handed his sword to a page, the only attendant he allowed to accompany him, and took the way to the Louvre.
As he went down the steps of the hôtel, the watchman of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois had just announced one o’clock in the morning.
Though the night was far gone and the streets at this time were very far from safe, no accident befell the adventurous prince on the way, and safe and sound he approached the colossal mass of the ancient Louvre, all the lights of which had been extinguished one after the other, so that it rose portentous in its silence and darkness.
In front of the royal château was a deep fosse, looking into which were the chambers of most of the princes who inhabited the palace. Marguerite’s apartment was on the first floor. But this first floor, easily accessible but for the fosse, was, in consequence of the depth to which that was cut, thirty feet from the bottom of the wall, and consequently out of the reach of robbers or lovers; nevertheless the Duc de Guise approached it without hesitation.
At the same moment was heard the noise of a window which opened on the ground floor. This window was grated, but a hand appeared, lifted out one of the bars which had been loosened, and dropped from it a silken lace.
“Is that you, Gillonne?” said the duke, in a low voice.
“Yes, monseigneur,” replied a woman’s voice, in a still lower tone.
“Is waiting for you.”
“’T is well.”
Hereupon the duke made a signal to his page, who, opening his cloak, took out a small rope ladder. The prince fastened one end to the silk lace, and Gillonne, drawing it up, tied it securely. Then the prince, after having buckled his sword to his belt, ascended without accident. When he had entered, the bar was replaced and the window closed, while the page, having seen his master quietly enter the Louvre, to the windows of which he had accompanied him twenty times in the same way, laid himself down in his cloak on the grass of the fosse, beneath the shadow of the wall.
The night was extremely dark, and large drops of warm rain were falling from the heavy clouds charged with electric fluid.
The Duc de Guise followed his guide, who was no other than the daughter of Jacques de Matignon, maréchal of France. She was the especial confidante of Marguerite, who kept no secret from her; and it was said that among the number of mysteries entrusted to her incorruptible fidelity, there were some so terrible as to compel her to keep the rest.
There was no light left either in the low rooms or in the corridors, only from time to time a livid glare illuminated the dark apartments with a vivid flash, which as instantly disappeared.
The duke, still guided by his conductress, who held his hand, reached a staircase built in the thick wall, and opening by a secret and invisible door into the antechamber of Marguerite’s apartment.
In this antechamber, which like all the other lower rooms was perfectly dark, Gillonne stopped.
“Have you brought what the queen requested?” she inquired, in a low voice.
“Yes,” replied the Duc de Guise; “but I will give it only to her majesty in person.”
“Come, then, and do not lose an instant!” said a voice from the darkness, which made the duke start, for he recognized it as Marguerite’s.
At the same moment a curtain of violet velvet covered with golden fleurs-delis was raised, and the duke made out the form of the queen, who in her impatience had come to meet him.
“I am here, madame,” he then said; and he passed the curtain, which fell behind him. So Marguerite de Valois herself now became the prince’s guide, leading him into the room which, however, he knew already, while Gillonne, standing at the door, had raised her finger to her lips and reassured her royal mistress.
As if she understood the duke’s jealous apprehensions, Marguerite led him to the bedchamber, and there paused.
“Well,” she said, “are you satisfied, duke?”
“Satisfied, madame?” was the reply, “and with what?”
“Of the proof I give you,” retorted Marguerite, with a slight tone of vexation in her voice, “that I belong to a man who, on the very night of his marriage, makes me of such small importance that he does not even come to thank me for the honor I have done him, not in selecting, but in accepting him for my husband.”
“Oh! madame,” said the duke, sorrowfully, “be assured he will come if you desire it.”
“And do you say that, Henry?” cried Marguerite; “you, who better than any know the contrary of what you say? If I had that desire, should I have asked you to come to the Louvre?”
“You have asked me to come to the Louvre, Marguerite, because you are anxious to destroy every vestige of our past, and because that past lives not only in my memory, but in this silver casket which I bring to you.”
“Henry, shall I say one thing to you?” replied Marguerite, gazing earnestly at the duke; “it is that you are more like a schoolboy than a prince. I deny that I have loved you! I desire to quench a flame which will die, perhaps, but the reflection of which will never die! For the loves of persons of my rank illumine and frequently devour the whole epoch contemporary with them. No, no, duke; you may keep the letters of your Marguerite, and the casket she has given you. She asks but one of these letters, and that only because it is as dangerous for you as for herself.”
“It is all yours,” said the duke. “Take the one that you wish to destroy.”
Marguerite searched anxiously in the open casket, and with a tremulous hand took, one after the other, a dozen letters, only the addresses of which she examined, as if by merely glancing at these she could recall to her memory what the letters themselves contained; but after a close scrutiny she looked at the duke, pale and agitated.
“Sir,” she said, “what I seek is not here. Can you have lost it, by any accident? for if it should fall into the hands of”—
“What letter do you seek, madame?”
“That in which I told you to marry without delay.”
“As an excuse for your infidelity?”
Marguerite shrugged her shoulders.
“No; but to save your life. The one in which I told you that the king, seeing our love and my exertions to break off your proposed marriage with the Infanta of Portugal, had sent for his brother, the Bastard of Angoulême, and said to him, pointing to two swords, ‘With this slay Henry de Guise this night, or with the other I will slay thee in the morning.’ Where is that letter?”
“Here,” said the duke, drawing it from his breast.
Marguerite almost snatched it from his hands, opened it anxiously, assured herself that it was really the one she desired, uttered an exclamation of joy, and applying the lighted candle to it, the flames instantly consumed the paper; then, as if Marguerite feared that her imprudent words might be read in the very ashes, she trampled them under foot.
During all this the Duc de Guise had watched his mistress attentively.
“Well, Marguerite,” he said, when she had finished, “are you satisfied now?”
“Yes, for now that you have wedded the Princesse de Porcian, my brother will forgive me your love; while he would never have pardoned me for revealing a secret such as that which in my weakness for you I had not the strength to conceal from you.”
“True,” replied De Guise, “then you loved me.”
“And I love you still, Henry, as much — more than ever!”
“I do; for never more than at this moment did I need a sincere and devoted friend. Queen, I have no throne; wife, I have no husband!”
The young prince shook his head sorrowfully.
“I tell you, I repeat to you, Henri, that my husband not only does not love me, but hates — despises me; indeed, it seems to me that your presence in the chamber in which he ought to be is proof of this hatred, this contempt.”
“It is not yet late, Madame, and the King of Navarre requires time to dismiss his gentlemen; if he has not already come, he will come soon.”
“And I tell you,” cried Marguerite, with increasing vexation — “I tell you that he will not come!”
“Madame!” exclaimed Gillonne, suddenly entering, “the King of Navarre is just leaving his apartments!”
“Oh, I knew he would come!” exclaimed the Duc de Guise.
“Henri,” said Marguerite, in a quick tone, and seizing the duke’s hand — “Henri, you shall see if I am a woman of my word, and if I may be relied on. Henri, enter that closet.”
“Madame, allow me to go while there is yet time, for reflect that the first mark of love you bestow on him, I shall quit the cabinet, and then woe to him!”
“Are you mad? Go in-go in, I say, and I will be responsible for all;” and she pushed the duke into the closet.
It was time. The door was scarcely closed behind the prince when the King of Navarre, escorted by two pages, who carried eight torches of yellow wax in two candelabra, appeared, smiling, on the threshold of the chamber. Marguerite concealed her trouble, and made a low bow.
“You are not yet in bed, Madame,” observed the Béarnais, with his frank and joyous look. “Were you by chance waiting for me?”
“No, Monsieur,” replied Marguerite; “for yesterday you repeated to me that our marriage was a political alliance, and that you would never thwart my wishes.”
“Assuredly; but that is no reason why we should not confer a little together. Gillonne, close the door, and leave us.”
Marguerite, who was sitting, then rose and extended her hand, as if to desire the pages to remain.
“Must I call your women?” inquired the king. “I will do so if such be your desire, although I confess that for what I have to say to you I should prefer our being alone;” and the King of Navarre advanced towards the closet.
“No!” exclaimed Marguerite, hastily going before him — “no! there is no occasion for that; I am ready to hear you.”
The Béarnais had learned what he desired to know; he threw a rapid and penetrating glance towards the cabinet, as if in spite of the thick curtain which hung before it, he would dive into its obscurity, and then, turning his looks to his lovely wife, pale with terror, he said with the utmost composure, “In that case, Madame, let us confer for a few moments.”
“As your Majesty pleases,” said the young wife, falling into, rather than sitting upon the seat which her husband pointed out to her.
The Béarnais placed himself beside her. “Madame,” he continued, “whatever many persons may have said, I think our marriage is a good marriage. I stand well with you; you stand well with me.”
“But —” said Marguerite, alarmed.
“Consequently, we ought,” observed the King of Navarre, without seeming to notice Marguerite’s hesitation, “to act towards each other like good allies, since we have today sworn alliance in the presence of God. Don’t you think so?”
“I know, Madame, how great your penetration is; I know how the ground at court is intersected with dangerous abysses. Now, I am young, and although I never injured any one, I have a great many enemies. In which camp, Madame, ought I to range her who bears my name, and who has vowed her affection to me at the foot of the altar?”
“Monsieur, could you think —”
“I think nothing, Madame; I hope, and I am anxious to know that my hope is well founded. It is quite certain that our marriage is merely a pretext or a snare.”
Marguerite started, for perhaps the same thought had occurred to her own mind.
“Now, then, which of the two?” continued Henri de Navarre. “The king hates me; the Duc d’Anjou hates me; the Duc d’Alençon hates me; Catherine de Médicis hated my mother too much not to hate me.”
“Oh, Monsieur, what are you saying?”
“The truth, madame,” replied the king; “and in order that it may not be supposed that I am deceived as to Monsieur de Mouy’s assassination and the poisoning of my mother, I wish that some one were here who could hear me.”
“Oh, sire,” replied Marguerite, with an air as calm and smiling as she could assume, “you know very well that there is no person here but you and myself.”
“It is for that very reason that I thus give vent to my thoughts; this it is that emboldens me to declare that I am not deceived by the caresses showered on me by the House of France or the House of Lorraine.”
“Sire, sire!” exclaimed Marguerite.
“Well, what is it, ma mie?” inquired Henry, smiling in his turn.
“Why, sire, such remarks are very dangerous.”
“Not when we are alone,” observed the king. “I was saying”—
Marguerite was evidently distressed; she desired to stop every word the king uttered, but he continued, with his apparent good nature:
“I was telling you that I was threatened on all sides: threatened by the King, threatened by the Duc d’Alençon, threatened by the Duc d’Anjou, threatened by the queen mother, threatened by the Duc de Guise, by the Duc de Mayenne, by the Cardinal de Lorraine — threatened, in fact, by every one. One feels that instinctively, as you know, madame. Well, against all these threats, which must soon become attacks, I can defend myself by your aid, for you are beloved by all the persons who detest me.”
“I?” said Marguerite.
“Yes, you,” replied Henry, with the utmost ease of manner; “yes, you are beloved by King Charles, you are beloved” (he laid strong emphasis on the word) “by the Duc d’Alençon, you are beloved by Queen Catharine, and you are beloved by the Duc de Guise.”
“Sire!” murmured Marguerite.
“Yes; and what is there astonishing in the fact that every one loves you? All I have mentioned are your brothers or relatives. To love one’s brothers and relatives is to live according to God’s heart.”
“But what, then,” asked Marguerite, greatly overcome, “what do you mean?”
“What I have just said, that if you will be-I do not mean my love — but my ally, I can brave everything; while, on the other hand, if you become my enemy, I am lost.”
“Oh, your enemy! — never, sir!” exclaimed Marguerite.
“And my love — never either?”
“And my ally?”
And Marguerite turned round and offered her hand to the king.
Henry took it, kissed it gallantly, and retaining it in his own, more from a desire of investigation than from any sentiment of tenderness, said:
“Very well, I believe you, madame, and accept the alliance. They married us without our knowing each other — without our loving each other; they married us without consulting us — us whom they united. We therefore owe nothing to each other as man and wife; you see that I even go beyond your wishes and confirm this evening what I said to you yesterday; but we ally ourselves freely and without any compulsion. We ally ourselves, as two loyal hearts who owe each other mutual protection should ally themselves; ’t is as such you understand it?”
“Yes, sir,” said Marguerite, endeavoring to withdraw her hand.
“Well, then,” continued the Béarnais, with his eyes fastened on the door of the cabinet, “as the first proof of a frank alliance is the most perfect confidence, I will now relate to you, madame, in all its details, the plan I have formed in order that we may victoriously meet and overcome all these enmities.”
“Sire”— said Marguerite, in spite of herself turning her eyes toward the closet, whilst the Béarnais, seeing his trick succeed, laughed in his sleeve.
“This is what I mean to do,” he continued, without appearing to remark his young wife’s nervousness, “I intend”—
“Sire,” said Marguerite, rising hastily, and seizing the king’s arm, “allow me a little breath; my emotion — the heat — overpowers me.”
And, in truth, Marguerite was as pale and trembling as if she was about to fall on the carpet.
Henry went straight to a window some distance off, and opened it. This window looked out on the river.
Marguerite followed him.
“Silence, sire — silence, for your own sake!” she murmured.
“What, madame,” said the Béarnais, with his peculiar smile, “did you not tell me we were alone?”
“Yes, sire; but did you not hear me say that by the aid of a tube introduced into the ceiling or the wall everything could be heard?”
“Well, madame, well,” said the Béarnais, earnestly and in a low voice, “it is true you do not love me, but you are, at least, honorable.”
“What do you mean, sire?”
“I mean that if you were capable of betraying me, you would have allowed me to go on, as I was betraying myself. You stopped me — I now know that some one is concealed here — that you are an unfaithful wife, but a faithful ally; and just now, I confess, I have more need of fidelity in politics than in love.”
“Sire!” replied Marguerite, confused.
“Good, good; we will talk of this hereafter,” said Henry, “when we know each other better.”
Then, raising his voice —“Well,” he continued, “do you breathe more freely now, madame?”
“Yes, sire — yes!”
“Well, then,” said the Béarnais, “I will no longer intrude on you. I owed you my respects, and some advances toward better acquaintance; deign, then, to accept them, as they are offered, with all my heart. Good-night, and happy slumbers!”
Marguerite raised her eyes, shining with gratitude, and offered her husband her hand.
“It is agreed,” she said.
“Political alliance, frank and loyal?” asked Henry.
“Frank and loyal,” was the reply.
And the Béarnais went toward the door, followed by Marguerite’s look as if she were fascinated. Then, when the curtain had fallen between them and the bedchamber:
“Thanks, Marguerite,” he said, in a quick low tone, “thanks! You are a true daughter of France. I leave you quite tranquil: lacking your love, your friendship will not fail me. I rely on you, as you, on your side, may rely on me. Adieu, madame.”
And Henry kissed his wife’s hand, and pressed it gently. Then with a quick step he returned to his own apartment, saying to himself, in a low voice, in the corridor:
“Who the devil is with her? Is it the King, or the Duc d’Anjou, or the Duc d’Alençon, or the Duc de Guise? is it a brother or a lover? is it both? I’ faith, I am almost sorry now I asked the baroness for this rendezvous; but, as my word is pledged, and Dariole is waiting for me — no matter. Yet, ventre saint gris! this Margot, as my brother-inlaw, King Charles, calls her, is an adorable creature.”
And with a step which betrayed a slight hesitation, Henry of Navarre ascended the staircase which led to Madame de Sauve’s apartments.
Marguerite had followed him with her eyes until he disappeared. Then she returned to her chamber, and found the duke at the door of the cabinet. The sight of him almost touched her with remorse.
The duke was grave, and his knitted brow bespoke bitter reflection.
“Marguerite is neutral today,” he said; “in a week Marguerite will be hostile.”
“Ah! you have been listening?” said Marguerite.
“What else could I do in the cabinet?”
“And did you find that I behaved otherwise than the Queen of Navarre should behave?”
“No; but differently from the way in which the mistress of the Duc de Guise should behave.”
“Sir,” replied the queen, “I may not love my husband, but no one has the right to require me to betray him. Tell me honestly: would you reveal the secrets of the Princesse de Porcian, your wife?”
“Come, come, madame,” answered the duke, shaking his head, “this is very well; I see that you do not love me as in those days when you disclosed to me the plot of the King against me and my party.”
“The King was strong and you were weak; Henry is weak and you are strong. You see I always play a consistent part.”
“Only you pass from one camp to another.”
“That was a right I acquired, sir, in saving your life.”
“Good, madame; and as when lovers separate, they return all the gifts that have passed between them, I will save your life, in my turn, if ever the need arises, and we shall be quits.”
And the duke bowed and left the room, nor did Marguerite attempt to retain him.
In the antechamber he found Gillonne, who guided him to the window on the ground floor, and in the fosse he found his page, with whom he returned to the Hôtel de Guise.
Marguerite, in a dreamy mood, went to the opened window.
“What a marriage night!” she murmured to herself; “the husband flees from me — the lover forsakes me!”
At that moment, coming from the Tour de Bois, and going up toward the Moulin de la Monnaie, on the other side of the fosse passed a student, his hand on his hip, and singing:
“Tell me why, O maiden fair,
When I burn to bite thy hair,
And to kiss thy rosy lips,
And to touch thy lovely breast,
Like a nun thou feign’st thee blest
In the cloister’s sad eclipse?
“Who will win the precious prize
Of thy brow, thy mouth, thine eyes —
Of thy bosom sweet — what lover?
Wilt thou all thy charms devote
To grim Pluton when the boat
Charon rows shall take thee over?
“After thou hast sailed across,
Loveliest, then wilt find but loss —
All thy beauty will decay.
When I die and meet thee there
In the shades I’ll never swear
Thou wert once my mistress gay!
“Therefore, darling, while we live,
Change thy mind and tokens give —
Kisses from thy honey mouth!
Else when thou art like to die
Thou ‘lt repent thy cruelty,
Filling all my life with drouth!”
Marguerite listened with a melancholy smile; then when the student’s voice was lost in the distance, she shut the window, and called Gillonne to help her to prepare for bed.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53