La Mole hurriedly left the Louvre, and set out to search Paris for poor Coconnas.
His first move was to repair to the Rue de l’Arbre Sec and to enter Maître La Hurière’s, for La Mole remembered that he had often repeated to the Piedmontese a certain Latin motto which was meant to prove that Love, Bacchus, and Ceres are gods absolutely necessary to us, and he hoped that Coconnas, to follow up the Roman aphorism, had gone to the Belle Étoile after a night which must have been as full for his friend as it had been for himself.
La Mole found nothing at La Hurière’s except the reminder of the assumed obligation. A breakfast which was offered with good grace was eagerly accepted by our gentleman, in spite of his anxiety. His stomach calmed in default of his mind, La Mole resumed his walk, ascending the bank of the Seine like a husband searching for his drowned wife. On reaching the quay of the Grève, he recognized the place where, as he had said to Monsieur d’Alençon, he had been stopped during his nocturnal tramp three or four hours before. This was no unusual thing in Paris, older by a hundred years than that in which Boileau was awakened at the sound of a ball piercing his window shutter. A bit of the plume from his hat remained on the battle-field. The sentiment of possession is innate in man. La Mole had ten plumes each more beautiful than the last, and yet he stopped to pick up that one, or, rather, the sole fragment of what remained of it, and was contemplating it with a pitiful air when he heard the sound of heavy steps approaching, and rough voices ordering him to stand aside. La Mole raised his head and perceived a litter preceded by two pages and accompanied by an outrider. La Mole thought he recognized the litter, and quickly stepped aside.
The young man was not mistaken.
“Monsieur de la Mole!” exclaimed a sweet voice from the litter, while a hand as white and as smooth as satin drew back the curtains.
“Yes, madame, in person,” replied La Mole bowing.
“Monsieur de la Mole with a plume in his hand,” continued the lady in the litter. “Are you in love, my dear monsieur, and are you recovering lost traces?”
“Yes, madame,” replied La Mole, “I am in love, and very much so. But just now these are my own traces that I have found, although they are not those for which I am searching. But will your majesty permit me to inquire after your health?”
“It is excellent, monsieur; it seems to me that I have never been better. This probably comes from the fact of my having spent the night in retreat.”
“Ah! in retreat!” said La Mole, looking at Marguerite strangely.
“Well, yes; what is there surprising in that?”
“May I, without indiscretion, ask you in what convent?”
“Certainly, monsieur, I make no mystery of it; in the convent of the Annonciade. But what are you doing here with this startled air?”
“Madame, I too passed the night in retreat, and in the vicinity of the same convent. This morning I am looking for my friend who has disappeared, and in seeking him I came upon this plume.”
“Whom does it belong to? Really, you frighten me about him; the place is a bad one.”
“Your majesty may be reassured; the plume belongs to me. I lost it here about half-past five, as I was escaping from the hands of four bandits who tried with all their might to murder me, or at least I think they did.”
Marguerite repressed a quick gesture of terror.
“Oh! tell me about it!” said she.
“Nothing is easier, madame. It was, as I have had the honor to tell your majesty, about five o’clock in the morning.”
“And you were already out at five o’clock in the morning?” interrupted Marguerite.
“Your majesty will excuse me,” said La Mole, “I had not yet returned.”
“Ah! Monsieur de la Mole! you returned at five o’clock in the morning!” said Marguerite with a smile which was fatal for every one, and which La Mole was unfortunate enough to find adorable; “you returned so late, you merited this punishment!”
“Therefore I do not complain, madame,” said La Mole, bowing respectfully, “and I should have been cut to pieces had I not considered myself a hundred times more fortunate than I deserve to be. But I was returning late, or early, as your majesty pleases, from that fortunate house in which I had spent the night in retreat, when four cut-throats rushed from the Rue de la Mortellerie and pursued me with indescribably long knives. It is grotesque, is it not, madame? but it is true — I had to run away, for I had forgotten my sword.”
“Oh! I understand,” said Marguerite, with an admirably naïve manner, “and you have come back to find your sword?”
La Mole looked at Marguerite as though a suspicion flashed through his mind.
“Madame, I would return to some place and very willingly too, since my sword is an excellent blade, but I do not know where the house is.”
“What, monsieur?” exclaimed Marguerite. “You do not know where the house is in which you passed the night?”
“No, madame, and may Satan exterminate me if I have any idea!”
“Well this is strange! your story, then, is a romance?”
“A true romance, as you say, madame.”
“Tell it to me.”
“It is somewhat long.”
“Never mind, I have time.”
“And, above all, it is improbable.”
“Never mind, no one could be more credulous than I.”
“Does your majesty command me?”
“Why, yes; if necessary.”
“In that case I obey. Last evening, having left two adorable women with whom we had spent the evening on the Saint Michel bridge, we took supper at Maître La Hurière’s.”
“In the first place,” said Marguerite, perfectly naturally, “who is Maître La Hurière?”
“Maître La Hurière, madame,” said La Mole, again glancing at Marguerite with the suspicion he had already felt, “Maître La Hurière is the host of the inn of the Belle Étoile in the Rue de l’Arbre Sec.”
“Yes, I can see it from here. You were supping, then, at Maître La Hurière’s with your friend Coconnas, no doubt?”
“Yes, madame, with my friend Coconnas, when a man entered and handed us each a note.”
“Were they alike?” asked Marguerite.
“Exactly alike. They contained only a single line:
“‘You are awaited in the Rue Saint Antoine, opposite the Rue Saint Jouy.’”
“And had the note no signature?” asked Marguerite.
“No; only three words — three charming words which three times promised the same thing, that is to say, a three-fold happiness.”
“And what were these three words?”
“Eros, Cupido, Amor.”
“In short, three sweet words; and did they fulfil what they promised?”
“Oh! more, madame, a hundred times more!” cried La Mole with enthusiasm.
“Continue. I am curious to know who was waiting for you in the Rue Saint Antoine, opposite the Rue de Jouy.”
“Two duennas, each with a handkerchief in her hand. They said we must let them bandage our eyes. Your majesty may imagine that it was not a difficult thing to have done. We bravely extended our necks. My guide turned me to the left, my friend’s guide turned him to the right, and we were separated.”
“And then?” continued Marguerite, who seemed determined to carry out the investigation to the end.
“I do not know,” said La Mole, “where his guide led my friend. To hell, perhaps. As to myself, all I know is that mine led me to a place I consider paradise.”
“And whence, no doubt, your too great curiosity drove you?”
“Exactly, madame; you have the gift of divination. I waited, impatiently, for daylight, that I might see where I was, when at half-past four the same duenna returned, again bandaged my eyes, made me promise not to try to raise my bandage, led me outside, accompanied me for a hundred feet, made me again swear not to remove my bandage until I had counted fifty more. I counted fifty, and found myself in the Rue Saint Antoine, opposite the Rue de Jouy.”
“Then, madame, I returned so happy that I paid no attention to the four wretches, from whose clutches I had such difficulty in escaping. Now, madame,” continued La Mole, “in finding a piece of my plume here, my heart trembled with joy, and I picked it up, promising myself to keep it as a souvenir of this glad night. But in the midst of my happiness, one thing troubles me; that is, what may have become of my companion.”
“Has he not returned to the Louvre?”
“Alas! no, madame! I have searched everywhere, in the Étoile d’Or, on the tennis courts, and in many other respectable places; but no Annibal, and no Coconnas”—
As La Mole uttered these words he accompanied them with a gesture of hopelessness, extended his arms and opened his cloak, underneath which at various points his doublet was seen, the lining of which showed through the rents like so many elegant slashes.
“Why, you were riddled through and through!” exclaimed Marguerite.
“Riddled is the word!” said La Mole, who was not sorry to turn to his account the danger he had run. “See, madame, see!”
“Why did you not change your doublet at the Louvre, since you returned there?” asked the queen.
“Ah!” said La Mole, “because some one was in my room.”
“Some one in your room?” said Marguerite, whose eyes expressed the greatest astonishment; “who was in your room?”
“Hush!” interrupted Marguerite.
The young man obeyed.
“Qui ad lecticam meam stant?” she asked La Mole.
“Duo pueri et unus eques.”
“Optime, barbari!” said she. “Dic, Moles, quem inveneris in biculo tuo?”
8 “Who are standing by my litter?”
“Two pages and an outrider.”
“Good! They are barbarians! Tell me, La Mole, whom did you find in your room?”
“I do not know.”
“With a stranger.”
“That is strange,” said Marguerite. “So you were unable to find Coconnas?” she continued, without evidently thinking of what she was saying.
“So, madame, as I have had the honor of telling you, I am really dying of anxiety.”
“Well,” said Marguerite, sighing, “I do not wish to detain you longer in your search for him; I do not know why I think so, but he will find himself! Never mind, however, go, in spite of this.”
The queen laid a finger on her lips. But as beautiful Marguerite had confided no secret, had made no avowal to La Mole, the young man understood that this charming gesture, meaning only to impose silence on him, must have another significance.
The procession resumed its march, and La Mole, intent on following out his investigation, continued to ascend the quay as far as the Rue Long Pont which led him to the Rue Saint Antoine.
Opposite the Rue Jouy he stopped. It was there that the previous evening the two duennas had bandaged his eyes and those of Coconnas. He had turned to the left, then he had counted twenty steps. He repeated this and found himself opposite a house, or rather a wall, behind which rose a house; in this wall was a door with a shed over it ornamented with large nails and loop-holes.
The house was in the Rue Cloche Percée, a small narrow street beginning in the Rue Saint Antoine and ending in the Rue Roi de Sicile.
“By Heaven!” cried La Mole, “it was here — I would swear to it — in extending my hand, as I came out, I felt the nails in the door, then I descended two steps. The man who ran by crying ‘Help!’ who was killed in the Rue Roi de Sicile, passed just as I reached the first. Let us see, now.”
La Mole went to the door and knocked. The door opened and a mustached janitor appeared.
“Was ist das?” (Who is that?) asked the janitor.
“Ah! ah!” said La Mole, “we are Swiss, apparently.” “My friend,” he continued, assuming the most charming manner, “I want my sword which I left in this house in which I spent the night.”
“Ich verstehe nicht,” (I do not understand,) replied the janitor.
“My sword,” went on La Mole.
“Ich verstehe nicht,” repeated the janitor.
“— which I left — my sword which I left”—
“Ich verstehe nicht.”
“— in this house, in which I spent the night.”
“Gehe zum Teufel!” (Go to the devil!) And he slammed the door in La Mole’s face.
“By Heaven!” cried La Mole, “if I had this sword I have just asked for, I would gladly put it through that fellow’s body. But I have not, and this must wait for another day.”
Thereupon La Mole continued his way to the Rue Roi de Sicile, took about fifty steps to the right, then to the left again, and came to the Rue Tizon, a little street running parallel with the Rue Cloche Percée, and like it in every way. More than this, scarcely had he gone thirty steps before he came upon the door with the large nails, with its shed and loop-holes, the two steps and the wall. One would have said that the Rue Cloche Percée had returned to see him pass by.
La Mole then reflected that he might have mistaken his right for his left, and he knocked at this door, to make the same demand he had made at the other. But this time he knocked in vain. The door was not opened.
Two or three times La Mole made the same trip, which naturally led him to the idea that the house had two entrances, one on the Rue Cloche Percée, the other on the Rue Tizon.
But this conclusion, logical as it was, did not bring him back his sword, and did not tell him where his friend was. For an instant he conceived the idea of buying another sword and cutting to pieces the wretched janitor who so persistently refused to speak anything but German, but he thought this porter belonged to Marguerite, and that if Marguerite had chosen thus, it was because she had her reasons, and that it might be disagreeable for her to be deprived of him.
Now La Mole would not have done anything disagreeable to Marguerite for anything in the world.
Fearing to yield to this temptation he returned about two o’clock in the afternoon to the Louvre.
As his room was not occupied this time he could enter it. The matter was urgent enough as far as his doublet was concerned, which, as the queen had already remarked to him, was considerably torn.
He therefore at once approached his bed to substitute the beautiful pearl-gray doublet for the one he wore, when to his great surprise the first thing he perceived near the pearl-gray doublet was the famous sword which he had left in the Rue Cloche Percée.
La Mole took it and turned it over and over.
It was really his.
“Ah! ah!” said he, “is there some magic under all this?” Then with a sigh, “Ah! if poor Coconnas could be found like my sword!”
Two or three hours after La Mole had ceased his circular tramp around the small double house, the door on the Rue Tizon had opened. It was about five o’clock in the evening, consequently night had closed in.
A woman wrapped in a long cloak trimmed with fur, accompanied by an attendant, came out of the door which was held open by a duenna of forty, and hurrying rapidly along to the Rue Roi de Sicile, knocked at a small door of the Hôtel Argenson, which opened for her; she then left by the main entrance of the same hôtel which opened on to the Vieille Rue du Temple, went toward a small postern in the Hôtel de Guise, unlocked it with a key which she carried in her pocket, and disappeared.
Half an hour later a young man with bandaged eyes left by the same door of the small house, guided by a woman who led him to the corner of the Rue Geoffroy Lasnier and La Mortellerie. There she asked him to count fifty steps and then remove his bandage.
The young man carefully obeyed the order, and when he had counted fifty, removed the handkerchief from his eyes.
“By Heaven!” cried he, looking around. “I’ll be hanged if I know where I am! Six o’clock!” he cried, as the clock of Notre–Dame struck, “and poor La Mole, what can have become of him? Let us run to the Louvre, perhaps they may have news of him there.”
Coconnas hurriedly descended the Rue La Mortellerie, and reached the gates of the Louvre in less time than it would have taken an ordinary horse. As he went he jostled and knocked down the moving hedge of brave bourgeois who were walking peacefully about the shops of the Place de Baudoyer, and entered the palace.
There he questioned the Swiss and the sentinel. The former thought they had seen Monsieur de la Mole enter that morning, but had not seen him go out.
The sentinel had been there only an hour and a half and had seen nothing.
He ran to his room and hastily threw open the door; but he found only the torn doublet of La Mole on the bed, which increased his fears still more.
Then he thought of La Hurière and hastened to the worthy inn of the Belle Étoile. La Hurière had seen La Mole; La Mole had breakfasted there. Coconnas was thus wholly reassured, and as he was very hungry he ordered supper.
Coconnas was in the two moods necessary for a good supper — his mind was relieved and his stomach was empty; therefore he supped so well that the meal lasted till eight o’clock. Then strengthened by two bottles of light wine from Anjou, of which he was very fond and which he tossed off with a sensual enjoyment shown by winks of his eyes and repeated smacking of his lips, he set out again in his search for La Mole, accompanying it through the crowd by kicks and knocks of his feet in proportion to the increasing friendship inspired in him by the comfort which always follows a good meal.
That lasted one hour, during which time Coconnas searched every street in the vicinity of the Quay of the Grève, the Port au Charbon, the Rue Saint Antoine, and the Rues Tizon and Cloche Percée, to which he thought his friend might have returned. Finally he bethought himself that there was a place through which he had to pass, the gate of the Louvre, and he resolved to wait at this gate until his return.
He was not more than a hundred steps from the Louvre, and had just put on her feet a woman whose husband he had already overturned on the Place Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, when in the distance he perceived before him in the doubtful light of a great lantern near the drawbridge of the Louvre the cherry-colored velvet cloak and the white plume of his friend, who like a shadow was disappearing under the gate and returning the sentinel’s greeting.
The famous cherry-colored cloak was so well known to every one that he could not be mistaken in it.
“Well! by Heaven!” cried Coconnas; “it is really he this time, and he is returning. Well! well! La Mole, my friend! Plague it! Yet I have a good voice. How does it happen that he does not hear me? Fortunately I have as good legs as I have voice, so I will join him.”
In this hope Coconnas set out as fast as he could, and reached the Louvre in an instant, but, fast as he was, just as he stepped into the court the red cloak, which seemed in haste also, disappeared in the vestibule.
“Hi there! La Mole!” cried Coconnas, still hastening. “Wait for me. It is I, Coconnas. What in the devil are you hurrying so for? Are you running away?”
In fact the red cloak, as though it had wings, scaled the stairs rather than mounted them.
“Ah! you will not hear me!” cried Coconnas. “I am angry with you! Are you sorry? Well, the devil! I can run no further.” It was from the foot of the staircase that Coconnas hurled this final apostrophe to the fugitive whom he gave up following with his feet, but whom he still followed with his eyes through the screw of the stairway, and who had reached Marguerite’s chamber. Suddenly a woman came out of this room and took the arm of the man Coconnas was following.
“Oh! oh!” said Coconnas, “that looked very much like Queen Marguerite. He was expected. In that case it is different. I understand why he did not answer me.”
Crouching down by the banister he looked through the opening of the stairway. Then after a few words in a low voice he saw the red cloak follow the queen to her apartments.
“Good! good!” said Coconnas, “that is it. I was not mistaken. There are moments when the presence of our best friend is necessary to us, and dear La Mole has one of those moments.”
And Coconnas ascending the stairs softly sat down on a velvet bench which ornamented the landing place, and said to himself:
“Very well, instead of joining him I will wait — yes; but,” he added, “I think as he is with the Queen of Navarre I may have to wait long — it is cold, by Heaven! Well! well! I can wait just as well in my room. He will have to come there sometime.”
Scarcely had he finished speaking, and started to carry out his resolution, when a quick light step sounded above him, accompanied by a snatch of song so familiar that Coconnas at once turned his head in the direction of the step and the song. It was La Mole descending from the upper story, where his room was. When he perceived Coconnas, he began to descend the stairs four steps at a time, and this done he threw himself into his arms.
“Oh, Heavens! is it you?” said Coconnas. “How the devil did you get out?”
“By the Rue Cloche Percée, by Heavens!”
“No, I do not mean that house.”
“The queen’s apartment.”
“The queen’s apartment?”
“The Queen of Navarre.”
“I have not been there.”
“My dear Annibal,” said La Mole, “you are out of your head. I have come from my room where I have been waiting for you for two hours.”
“You have come from your room?”
“Was it not you I followed from the Place du Louvre?”
“It was not you who disappeared under the gate ten minutes ago?”
“It was not you who just ascended the stairs as if you were pursued by a legion of devils?”
“By Heaven!” cried Coconnas, “the wine of the Belle Étoile is not poor enough to have so completely turned my head. I tell you that I have just seen your cherry-colored cloak and your white plume under the gate of the Louvre, that I followed both to the foot of the stairway, and that your cloak, your plume, everything, to your swinging arm, was expected here by a lady whom I greatly suspect to be the Queen of Navarre, and who led you through that door, which, unless I am mistaken, is that of the beautiful Marguerite.”
“By Heaven!” cried La Mole, growing pale, “could there be treason?”
“Very good!” said Coconnas, “swear as much as you please, but do not tell me I am mistaken.”
La Mole hesitated an instant, pressing his head between his hands, deterred by respect and jealousy. His jealousy conquered him, however, and he hastened to the door, at which he knocked with all his might. This caused a somewhat unusual hubbub considering the dignity of the place in which it occurred.
“We shall be arrested,” said Coconnas, “but no matter, it is very funny. Tell me, La Mole, are there ghosts in the Louvre?”
“I know nothing about it,” said the young man as pale as the plume which shaded his brow; “but I have always wanted to see one, and as the opportunity presents itself I shall do my best to come face to face with this one.”
“I shall not prevent you,” said Coconnas, “only knock a little less fiercely if you do not wish to frighten it away.”
La Mole, exasperated as he was, felt the justice of the remark, and began to knock more gently.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07