The following day there was to be a hunt in the forest of Saint Germain.
Henry had ordered a small Béarnais horse to be made ready for him; that is, to be saddled and bridled at eight o’clock in the morning. He had intended giving this horse to Madame de Sauve, but he wanted to try it first. At a quarter before eight the horse was ready. On the stroke of eight Henry came down to the court-yard. The horse, proud and fiery in spite of its small size, pricked up its ears and pawed the ground. The weather was cold and a light frost covered the pavement. Henry started to cross the court-yard to the stables where the horse and the groom were waiting, when a Swiss soldier whom he passed standing sentinel at the gate presented arms and said:
“God keep his Majesty the King of Navarre.”
At this wish and especially at the tone in which it was uttered the Béarnais started.
He turned and stepped back.
“De Mouy!” he murmured.
“Yes, sire, De Mouy.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.”
“Why are you looking for me?”
“I must speak to your majesty.”
“Unfortunately,” said the king, approaching him, “do you not know you risk your head?”
“I know it.”
“Well, I am here.”
Henry turned slightly pale, for he knew that he shared the danger run by this rash young man. He looked anxiously about him, and stepped back a second time, no less quickly than he had done at first. He had seen the Duc d’Alençon at a window.
At once changing his manner Henry took the musket from the hands of De Mouy, standing, as we have said, sentinel, and while apparently measuring it:
“De Mouy,” said he, “it is certainly not without some very strong motive that you have come to beard the lion in his den in this way?”
“No, sire, I have waited for you a week; only yesterday I heard that your majesty was to try a horse this morning, and I took my position at the gate of the Louvre.”
“But how in this uniform?”
“The captain of the company is a Protestant and is one of my friends.”
“Here is your musket; return to your duty of sentinel. We are watched. As I come back I will try to say a word to you, but if I do not speak, do not stop me. Adieu.”
De Mouy resumed his measured walk, and Henry advanced towards the house.
“What is that pretty little animal?” asked the Duc d’Alençon from his window.
“A horse I am going to try this morning,” replied Henry.
“But that is not a horse for a man.”
“Therefore it is intended for a beautiful woman.”
“Take care, Henry; you are going to be indiscreet, for we shall see this beautiful woman at the hunt; and if I do not know whose knight you are, I shall at least know whose equerry you are.”
“No, my lord, you will not know,” said Henry, with his feigned good-humor, “for this beautiful woman cannot go out this morning; she is indisposed.”
He sprang into the saddle.
“Ah, bah!” cried d’Alençon, laughing; “poor Madame de Sauve.”
“François! François! it is you who are indiscreet.”
“What is the matter with the beautiful Charlotte?” went on the Duc d’Alençon.
“Why,” replied Henry, spurring his horse to a gallop, and making him describe a graceful curve; “why, I have no idea — a heaviness in the head, according to what Dariole tells me. A torpor of the whole body; in short, general debility.”
“And will this prevent you from joining us?” asked the duke.
“I? Why should it?” asked Henry. “You know that I dote on a hunt, and that nothing could make me miss one.”
“But you will miss this one, Henry,” said the duke, after he had turned and spoken for an instant with some one unnoticed by Henry, who addressed François from the rear of the room, “for his Majesty tells me that the hunt cannot take place.”
“Bah!” said Henry, in the most disappointed tone imaginable. “Why not?”
“Very important letters from Monsieur de Nevers, it seems. There is a council among the King, the queen mother, and my brother the Duc d’Anjou.”
“Ah! ah!” said Henry to himself, “could any news have come from Poland?”
“In that case,” he continued, “it is useless for me to run any further risk on this frost. Good-by, brother!”
Pulling up his horse in front of De Mouy:
“My friend,” said he, “call one of your comrades to finish your sentinel duty for you. Help the groom ungirth my horse. Put the saddle over your head and carry it to the saddler’s; there is some embroidery to be done on it, which there was not time to finish for today. You will bring an answer to my apartments.”
De Mouy hastened to obey, for the Duc d’Alençon had disappeared from his window, and it was evident that he suspected something.
In fact, scarcely had De Mouy disappeared through the gate before the Duc d’Alençon came in sight. A real Swiss was in De Mouy’s place. D’Alençon looked carefully at the new sentinel; then turning to Henry:
“This is not the man you were talking with just now, is it, brother?”
“The other is a young man who belongs to my household and whom I had enter the Swiss guards. I have just given him a commission and he has gone to carry it out.”
“Ah!” said the duke, as if this reply sufficed. “And how is Marguerite?”
“I am going to ask her, brother.”
“Have you not seen her since yesterday?”
“No. I went to her about eleven o’clock last night, but Gillonne told me that she was tired and had gone to sleep.”
“You will not find her in her room. She has gone out.”
“Oh!” said Henry. “Very likely. She was to go to the Convent de l’Annonciade.”
There was no way of carrying the conversation further, as Henry had seemingly made up his mind simply to answer. The two brothers-inlaw therefore departed, the Duc d’Alençon to go for news, he said, the King of Navarre to return to his room.
Henry had been there scarcely five minutes when he heard a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“Sire,” replied a voice which Henry recognized as that of De Mouy, “it is the answer from the saddler.”
Henry, visibly moved, bade the young man enter and closed the door behind him.
“Is it you, De Mouy?” said he; “I hoped that you would reflect.”
“Sire,” replied De Mouy, “I have reflected for three months; that is long enough. Now it is time to act.” Henry made a gesture of impatience.
“Fear nothing, sire, we are alone, and I will make haste, for time is precious. Your majesty can tell in a word all that the events of the year have lost to the cause of religion. Let us be clear, brief, and frank.”
“I am listening, my good De Mouy,” replied Henry, seeing that it was impossible for him to elude the explanation.
“Is it true that your majesty has abjured the Protestant religion?”
“It is true,” said Henry.
“Yes, but is it with your lips or at heart?”
“One is always grateful to God when he saves our life,” replied Henry, turning the question as he had a habit of doing in such cases, “and God has evidently saved me from this cruel danger.”
“Sire,” resumed De Mouy, “let us admit one thing.”
“That your abjuring is not a matter of conviction, but of calculation. You have abjured so that the King would let you live, and not because God has saved your life.”
“Whatever the cause of my conversion, De Mouy,” replied Henry, “I am none the less a Catholic.”
“Yes, but shall you always be one? The first chance you have for resuming your freedom of life and of conscience, will you not resume it? Well! this opportunity has presented itself. La Rochelle has revolted, Roussillon and Béarn are merely waiting for one word before acting. In Guyenne every one cries for war. Merely tell me if you were forced into taking this step, and I will answer for the future.”
“A gentleman of my birth is not forced, my dear De Mouy. That which I have done, I have done voluntarily.”
“But, sire,” said the young man, his heart oppressed with this resistance which he had not expected, “you do not remember that in acting thus you abandon and betray us.”
Henry was unmoved.
“Yes,” went on De Mouy, “yes, you betray us, sire, for several of us, at the risk of our lives, have come to save your honor and your liberty; we are prepared to offer you a throne, sire; do you realize this? not only liberty, but power; a throne of your own choice, for in two months you could choose between Navarre and France.”
“De Mouy,” said Henry, covering his eyes, which in spite of himself had emitted a flash at the above suggestion, “De Mouy, I am safe, I am a Catholic, I am the husband of Marguerite, I am the brother of King Charles, I am the son-inlaw of my good mother Catharine. De Mouy, in assuming these various positions, I have calculated their opportunities and also their obligations.”
“But, sire,” said De Mouy, “what must one believe? I am told that your marriage is not contracted, that at heart you are free, that the hatred of Catharine”—
“Lies, lies,” interrupted the Béarnais hastily. “Yes, you have been shamefully deceived, my friend; this dear Marguerite is indeed my wife, Catharine is really my mother, and King Charles IX. is the lord and master of my life and of my heart.”
De Mouy shuddered, and an almost scornful smile passed over his lips.
“In that case, sire,” said he dropping his arms dejectedly, and trying to fathom that soul filled with shadows, “this is the answer I am to take back to my brothers — I shall tell them that the King of Navarre extends his hand and opens his heart to those who have cut our throats; I shall tell them that he has become the flatterer of the queen mother and the friend of Maurevel.”
“My dear De Mouy,” said Henry, “the King is coming out of the council chamber, and I must go and find out from him the reasons for our having had to give up so important a thing as a hunt. Adieu; imitate me, my friend, give up politics, return to the King and attend mass.”
Henry led or rather pushed into the antechamber the young man, whose amazement was beginning to change into fury.
Scarcely was the door closed before, unable any longer to resist the longing to avenge himself on something in defence of some one, De Mouy twisted his hat between his hands, threw it upon the floor, and stamping on it as a bull would stamp on the cloak of the matador:
“By Heaven!” he cried, “he is a wretched prince, and I have half a mind to kill myself here in order to stain him forever with my blood.”
“Hush, Monsieur de Mouy!” said a voice through a half-open door; “hush! some one besides myself might hear you.”
De Mouy turned quickly and perceived the Duc d’Alençon enveloped in a cloak, advancing into the corridor with pale face, to make sure that he and De Mouy were entirely alone.
“Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon,” cried De Mouy, “I am lost!”
“On the contrary,” murmured the prince, “perhaps you have found what you are looking for, and the proof of this is that I do not want you to kill yourself here as you had an idea of doing just now. Believe me, your blood can in all probability be put to better use than to redden the threshold of the King of Navarre.”
At these words the duke threw back the door which he had been holding half open.
“This chamber belongs to two of my gentlemen,” said the duke. “No one will interrupt us here. We can, therefore, talk freely. Come in, monsieur.”
“I, here, monseigneur!” cried the conspirator in amazement. He entered the room, the door of which the Duc d’Alençon closed behind him no less quickly than the King of Navarre had done.
De Mouy entered, furious, exasperated, cursing. But by degrees the cold and steady glance of the young Duc François had the same effect on the Huguenot captain as does the enchanted lake which dissipates drunkenness.
“Monseigneur,” said he, “if I understand correctly, your highness wishes to speak to me.”
“Yes, Monsieur de Mouy,” replied François. “In spite of your disguise I thought I recognized you, and when you presented arms to my brother Henry, I recognized you perfectly. Well, De Mouy, so you are not pleased with the King of Navarre?”
“Come, come! tell me frankly, unless you distrust me; perhaps I am one of your friends.”
“Yes, I; so speak.”
“I do not know what to say to your highness, monseigneur. The matter I had to discuss with the King of Navarre concerned interests which your highness would not comprehend. Moreover,” added De Mouy with a manner which he strove to render indifferent, “they were mere trifles.”
“Trifles?” said the duke.
“Trifles, for which you felt you would risk your life by coming back to the Louvre, where you know your head is worth its weight in gold. We are not ignorant of the fact that you, as well as the King of Navarre and the Prince de Condé, are one of the leaders of the Huguenots.”
“If you think that, monseigneur, act towards me as the brother of King Charles and the son of Queen Catharine should act.”
“Why should you wish me to act in that way, when I have told you that I am a friend of yours? Tell me the truth.”
“Monseigneur,” said De Mouy, “I swear to you”—
“Do not swear, monseigneur; the reformed church forbids the taking of oaths, and especially of false oaths.”
De Mouy frowned.
“I tell you I know all,” continued the duke.
De Mouy was still silent.
“You doubt it?” said the prince with affected persistence. “Well, my dear De Mouy, we shall have to be convinced. Come, now, you shall judge if I am wrong. Did you or did you not propose to my brother-inlaw Henry, in his room just now,” the duke pointed to the chamber of the Béarnais, “your aid and that of your followers to reinstate him in his kingdom of Navarre?”
De Mouy looked at the duke with a startled gaze.
“A proposition which he refused with terror.”
De Mouy was still amazed.
“Did you then invoke your old friendship, the remembrance of a common religion? Did you even hold out to the King of Navarre a very brilliant hope, a hope so brilliant that he was dazzled by it — the hope of winning the crown of France? Come, tell me; am I well informed? Is that what you came to propose to the Béarnais?”
“Monseigneur!” cried De Mouy, “this is so true, that I now wonder if I should not tell your royal highness that you have lied! to arouse in this chamber a combat without mercy, and thus to make sure of the extinction of this terrible secret by the death of both of us.”
“Gently, my brave De Mouy, gently!” said the Duc d’Alençon without changing countenance, or without taking the slightest notice of this terrible threat.
“The secret will die better with us if we both live than if one of us were to die. Listen to me, and stop pulling at the handle of your sword. For the third time I say that you are with a friend. Now tell me, did not the King of Navarre refuse everything you offered him?”
“Yes, monseigneur, and I admit it, because my avowal can compromise only myself.”
“On leaving his room did you not stamp on your hat, and cry out that he was a cowardly prince, and unworthy of being your leader?”
“That is true, monseigneur, I said that.”
“Ah! you did? you admit it at last?”
“And this is still your opinion?”
“More than ever, monseigneur.”
“Well, am I, Monsieur de Mouy, I, the third son of Henry II., I, a son of France, am I a good enough gentleman to command your soldiers? Come, now; do you think me loyal enough for you to trust my word?”
“You, monseigneur! you, the leader of the Huguenots!”
“Why not? This is an epoch of conversions, you know. Henry has turned Catholic; I can turn Protestant.”
“Yes, no doubt, monseigneur; so I am waiting for you to explain to me”—
“Nothing is easier; and in two words I can tell you the policy of every one. My brother Charles kills the Huguenots in order to reign more freely. My brother of Anjou lets them be killed because he is to succeed my brother Charles, and because, as you know, my brother Charles is often ill. But with me it is entirely different. I shall never reign — at least in France — as long as I have two elder brothers. The hatred of my mother and of my two brothers more than the law of nature keeps me from the throne. I have no claim to any family affection, any glory, or any kingdom. Yet I have a heart as great as my elder brother’s. Well, De Mouy, I want to look about and with my sword cut a kingdom out of this France they cover with blood. Now this is what I want, De Mouy, listen: I want to be King of Navarre, not by birth but by election. And note well that you have no objection to this system. I am not a usurper, since my brother refuses your offers, and buries himself in his torpor, and pretends aloud that this kingdom of Navarre is only a myth. With Henry of Béarn you have nothing. With me, you have a sword and a name, François d’Alençon, son of France, protector of all his companions or all his accomplices, as you are pleased to call them. Well, what do you say to this offer, Monsieur de Mouy?”
“I say that it dazzles me, monseigneur.”
“De Mouy, De Mouy, we shall have many obstacles to overcome. Do not, therefore, from the first be so exacting and so obstinate towards the son of a king and the brother of a king who comes to you.”
“Monseigneur, the matter would be already settled if my opinion were the only one to be considered, but we have a council, and brilliant as the offer may be, perhaps even on that very account the leaders of the party will not consent to the plan unconditionally.”
“That is another thing, and your answer comes from an honest heart and a prudent mind. From the way I have just acted, De Mouy, you must have recognized my honesty. Treat me, therefore, on your part as a man who is esteemed, not as a man who is flattered. De Mouy, have I any chance?”
“On my word, monseigneur, since your highness wants me to give my opinion, your highness has every chance, since the King of Navarre has refused the offer I have just made him. But I tell you again, monseigneur, I shall have to confer with our leaders.”
“Do so, monsieur,” replied d’Alençon. “But when shall I have an answer?”
De Mouy looked at the prince in silence. Then apparently coming to a decision:
“Monseigneur,” said he, “give me your hand. I must have the hand of a son of France touch mine to make sure that I shall not be betrayed.”
The duke not only extended his hand towards De Mouy, but grasped De Mouy’s and pressed it.
“Now, monseigneur, I am satisfied,” said the young Huguenot. “If we were betrayed I should say that you had nothing to do with it; otherwise, monseigneur, however slightly you might be concerned in the treason, you would be dishonored.”
“Why do you say that to me, De Mouy, before telling me that you will bring me the answer from your leaders?”
“Because, monseigneur, asking me when you would have your answer was the same as asking me where are the leaders, and because if I said to you, ‘This evening,’ you would know that the chiefs were hiding in Paris.” As he uttered these words, with a gesture of mistrust, De Mouy fixed his piercing glance on the false vacillating eyes of the young man.
“Well, well,” said the duke, “you still have doubts, Monsieur de Mouy. But I cannot expect entire confidence from you at first. You will understand me better later. We shall be bound by common interests which will rid you of all suspicion. You say this evening, then, Monsieur de Mouy?”
“Yes, monseigneur, for time presses. Until this evening. But where shall I see you, if you please?”
“At the Louvre, here in this room; does that suit you?”
“Is this occupied?” said De Mouy, glancing at the two beds opposite each other.
“By two of my gentlemen, yes.”
“Monseigneur, it seems to me imprudent to return to the Louvre.”
“Because if you have recognized me, others also may have as good eyes as your highness, and may recognize me. However, I will return to the Louvre if you will grant me what I am about to ask of you.”
“What is that?”
“A passport from me found on you would ruin me and would not save you. I can do nothing for you unless in the eyes of the world we are strangers to each other; the slightest relation between us, noticed by my mother or my brother, would cost me my life. You were therefore protected by my interest for myself from the moment I compromised myself with the others, as I am now compromising myself with you. Free in my sphere of action, strong if I am unknown, so long as I myself remain impenetrable, I will guarantee you everything. Do not forget this. Make a fresh appeal to your courage, therefore. Try on my word of honor what you tried without the word of honor of my brother. Come this evening to the Louvre.”
“But how do you wish me to come? I can not venture in these rooms in my present uniform — it is for the vestibules and the courts. My own is still more dangerous, since everyone knows me here, and since it in no way disguises me.”
“Therefore I will look — wait — I think that — yes, here it is.”
The duke had looked around him, and his eyes stopped at La Mole’s clothes, thrown temporarily on the bed; that is, on the magnificent cherry-colored cloak embroidered in gold, of which we have already spoken; on a cap ornamented with a white plume surrounded by a rope of gold and silver marguerites, and finally on a pearl-gray satin and gold doublet.
“Do you see this cloak, this plume, and this doublet?” said the duke; “they belong to Monsieur de la Mole, one of my gentlemen, a fop of the highest type. The cloak was the rage at court, and when he wore it, Monsieur de la Mole was recognized a hundred feet away. I will give you the address of the tailor who made it for him. By paying him double what it is worth, you will have one exactly like it by this evening. You will remember the name of Monsieur de la Mole, will you not?”
Scarcely had the Duc d’Alençon finished making the suggestion, when a step was heard approaching in the corridor, and a key was turned in the lock.
“Who is that?” cried the duke, rushing to the door and drawing the bolt.
“By Heaven!” replied a voice from outside; “I find that a strange question. Who are you yourself? This is pleasant! I return to my own room, and am asked who I am!”
“Is it you, Monsieur de la Mole?”
“Yes, it is I, without a doubt. But who are you?”
While La Mole was expressing his surprise at finding his room occupied, and while he was trying to discover its new occupant, the Duc d’Alençon turned quickly, one hand on the lock, the other on the key.
“Do you know Monsieur de la Mole?” he asked of De Mouy.
“Does he know you?”
“I think not.”
“In that case it will be all right. Appear to be looking out of the window.”
De Mouy obeyed in silence, for La Mole was beginning to grow impatient, and was knocking on the door with all his might.
The Duc d’Alençon threw a last glance towards De Mouy, and seeing that his back was turned, he opened the door.
“Monseigneur le Duc!” cried La Mole, stepping back in surprise. “Oh, pardon, pardon, monseigneur!”
“It is nothing, monsieur; I needed your room to receive a visitor.”
“Certainly, monseigneur, certainly. But allow me, I beg you, to take my cloak and hat from the bed, for I lost both to-night on the quay of the Grève, where I was attacked by robbers.”
“In fact, monsieur,” said the prince, smiling, himself handing to La Mole the articles asked for, “you are very poorly accommodated here. You have had an encounter with some very obstinate fellows, apparently!”
The duke handed to La Mole the cloak and the hat. The young man bowed and withdrew to the antechamber to change his clothes, paying no attention to what the duke was doing in his room; for it was an ordinary occurrence at the Louvre for the rooms of the gentlemen to be used as reception-rooms by the prince to whom the latter were attached.
De Mouy then approached the duke, and both listened for La Mole to finish and go out; but when the latter had changed his clothes, he himself saved them all further trouble by drawing near to the door.
“Pardon me, monseigneur,” said he, “but did your highness meet the Count de Coconnas on your way?”
“No, count, and yet he was at service this morning.”
“In that case they will assassinate me,” said La Mole to himself as he went away.
The duke heard the noise of his retreating steps; then opening the door and drawing De Mouy after him:
“Watch him going away,” said he, “and try to copy his inimitable walk.”
“I will do my best,” replied De Mouy. “Unfortunately I am not a lady’s man, but a soldier.”
“At all events I shall expect you in this corridor before midnight. If the chamber of my gentlemen is free, I will receive you there; if not, we will find another.”
“Until this evening then, before midnight.”
“Until this evening, before midnight.”
“Ah! by the way, De Mouy, swing your right arm a good deal as you walk. This is a peculiar trick of Monsieur de la Mole’s.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07