During the conversation which we have just related, La Mole and Coconnas mounted guard. La Mole somewhat chagrined, Coconnas somewhat anxious. La Mole had had time to reflect, and in this he had been greatly aided by Coconnas.
“What do you think of all this, my friend?” La Mole had asked of Coconnas.
“I think,” the Piedmontese had replied, “that there is some court intrigue connected with it.”
“And such being the case, are you disposed to play a part in it?”
“My dear fellow,” replied Coconnas, “listen well to what I am going to say to you and try and profit by it. In all these princely dealings, in all royal affairs, we can and should be nothing but shadows. Where the King of Navarre leaves a bit of his plume and the Duc d’Alençon a piece of his cloak, we leave our lives. The queen has a fancy for you, and you for her. Nothing is better. Lose your head in love, my dear fellow, but not in politics.”
That was wise council. Therefore it was heard by La Mole with the melancholy of a man who feels that, placed between reason and madness, it is madness he will follow.
“I have not a fancy for the queen, Annibal, I love her; and fortunately or unfortunately I love her with all my heart. This is madness, you will say. Well, I admit that I am mad. But you are wise, Coconnas, you ought not to suffer for my foolishness and my misfortune. Go back to our master and do not compromise yourself.”
Coconnas pondered an instant. Then raising his head:
“My dear fellow,” he replied, “all that you tell me is perfectly reasonable; you are in love — act, therefore, like a lover. I am ambitious, and being so, I think life is worth more to me than a woman’s kiss. When I risk my life, I make my own conditions. Try, so far as you are concerned, my poor Medor, to make yours.”
Whereupon Coconnas extended his hand to La Mole and withdrew, having exchanged a final glance and a final smile with his friend.
About ten minutes after he left his post, the door opened, and Marguerite, peering out cautiously, took La Mole by the hand and, without uttering a word, drew him from the corridor into the furthest corner of her room. She closed the door behind her with a care which indicated the importance of the conversation she was about to have.
Once in her room she stopped, seated herself on her ebony chair, and drawing La Mole to her, she clasped her hands over both of his.
“Now that we are alone,” said she, “let us talk seriously, my very dear friend.”
“Seriously, madame,” said La Mole.
“Or lovingly. Does that please you better? But there can be serious things in love, and especially in the love of a queen.”
“Then — let us talk of serious things; but on condition that your majesty will not be vexed at the lighter things I have to say to you.”
“I shall be vexed only at one thing, La Mole, and that is if you address me as ‘madame’ or ‘your majesty.’ For you, my beloved, I am just Marguerite.”
“Yes, Marguerite! Yes, Margarita! Yes, my pearl!” cried the young man, devouring the queen with his eyes.
“Yes, that is right,” said Marguerite. “So you are jealous, my fine gentleman?”
“Jealous of whom? Come!”
“Of the king first.”
“I should think after what you had seen and heard you might be easy on that point.”
“Of this Monsieur de Mouy, whom I saw this morning for the first time, and whom this evening I find so far advanced in his intimacy with you.”
“Monsieur de Mouy?”
“Who gave you such ideas about Monsieur de Mouy?”
“Listen! I recognized him from his figure, from the color of his hair, from a natural feeling of hatred. He is the one who was with Monsieur d’Alençon this morning.”
“Well, what connection has that with me?”
“Monsieur d’Alençon is your brother. It is said that you are very fond of him. You may have confided to him a vague feeling of your heart, and, according to the custom at court, he has aided your wish by admitting Monsieur de Mouy to your apartment. Now, what I do not understand is how I was fortunate enough to find the king here at the same time. But in any case, madame, be frank with me. In default of other sentiment, a love like mine has the right to demand frankness in return. See, I prostrate myself at your feet. If what you have felt for me is but a passing fancy, I will give you back your trust, your promise, your love; I will give back to Monsieur d’Alençon his kind favors and my post of gentleman, and I will go and seek death at the siege of La Rochelle, if love does not kill me before I have gone as far as that.”
Marguerite listened smilingly to these charming words, watching La Mole’s graceful gestures, then leaning her beautiful dreamy head on her feverish hand:
“You love me?” she asked.
“Oh, madame! more than life, more than safety, more than all; but you, you — you do not love me.”
“Poor fool!” she murmured.
“Ah, yes, madame,” cried La Mole, still at her feet, “I have told you I was that.”
“The chief thought of your life, then, is your love, dear La Mole!”
“It is the only thought, madame, the sole thought.”
“Well, be it so; I will make of all the rest only an accessory to this love. You love me; do you wish to remain near me?”
“My one prayer is that God will never take me from you.”
“Well, you shall not leave me. I need you, La Mole.”
“You need me? Does the sun need the glow-worm?”
“If I will tell you that I love you, would you be wholly devoted to me?”
“Ah! am I not that already, madame, and more than wholly?”
“Yes, but, God forgive me, you still doubt!”
“Oh! I am wrong, I am ungrateful, or, rather, as I have told you and repeated to you, I am a fool. But why was Monsieur de Mouy with you this evening? why did I see him this morning with Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon? Why that cherry-colored cloak, that white plume, that affected imitation of my gait? Ah! madame, it is not you whom I suspect, but your brother.”
“Wretched man!” said Marguerite, “wretched man to suppose that Duc François would push complacency so far as to introduce a wooer to his sister’s room! Mad enough to be jealous, and yet not to have guessed! Do you know, La Mole, that the Duc d’Alençon would run you through with his own sword if he knew that you were here, this evening, at my feet, and that instead of sending you away I were saying to you: ‘Stay here where you are, La Mole; for I love you, my fine gentleman, do you hear? I love you!’ Ah, yes! he would certainly kill you.”
“Great God!” cried La Mole, starting back and looking at Marguerite in terror, “is it possible?”
“Everything is possible, my friend, in these times and at this court. Now, one word; it was not for me that Monsieur de Mouy, in your cloak, his face hidden under your hat, came to the Louvre. It was for Monsieur d’Alençon. But I, thinking it was you, brought him here. He knows our secret, La Mole, and must be carefully managed.”
“I should prefer to kill him,” said La Mole; “that is shorter and surer.”
“And I, my brave gentleman,” said the queen, “I prefer him to live, and for you to know everything, for not only is his life useful to us, but it is necessary. Listen and weigh your words well before you answer. Do you love me enough, La Mole, to be glad if I were really to become a queen; that is, queen of a real kingdom?”
“Alas, madame, I love you enough to wish what you wish, even should this desire ruin my whole life!”
“Well, do you want to aid me to realize this desire, which would make you still happier?”
“Oh! I should lose you, madame,” cried La Mole hiding his head in his hands.
“No, on the contrary. Instead of being the first of my servants, you would become the first of my subjects, that is all.”
“Oh! no interest — no ambition, madame — do not sully the feeling I have for you — the devotion, nothing but devotion!”
“Noble nature!” said Marguerite; “well, yes, I accept your devotion, and I shall find out how to reward it.”
She extended both her hands, and La Mole covered them with kisses.
“Well!” said she.
“Well, yes!” replied La Mole, “yes, Marguerite, I am beginning to comprehend this vague project already talked of by us Huguenots before the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, the scheme for the execution of which I, like many another worthier than myself, was sent to Paris. You covet this actual kingdom of Navarre which is to take the place of an imaginary kingdom. King Henry drives you to it; De Mouy conspires with you, does he not? But the Duc d’Alençon, what is he doing in it all? Where is there a throne for him? I do not see. Now, is the Duc d’Alençon sufficiently your — friend to aid you in all this without asking anything in exchange for the danger he runs?”
“The duke, my friend, is conspiring on his own account. Let us leave him to his illusions. His life answers for ours.”
“But I, who belong to him, can I betray him?”
“Betray him! In what are you betraying him? What has he confided to you? Is it not he who has betrayed you by giving your cloak and hat to De Mouy as a means of gaining him admittance to his apartments? You belong to him, you say! Were you not mine, my gentleman, before you were his? Has he given you a greater proof of friendship than the proof of love you have from me?”
La Mole arose, pale and completely overcome.
“Oh!” he murmured, “Coconnas was right, intrigue is enveloping me in its folds. It will suffocate me.”
“Well?” asked Marguerite.
“Well,” said La Mole, “this is my answer: it is said, and I heard it at the other end of France, where your illustrious name and your universal reputation for beauty touched my heart like a vague desire for the unknown — it is said that sometimes you love, but that your love is always fatal to those you love, so that death, jealous, no doubt, almost always removes your lovers.”
“Do not interrupt me, oh, my well-loved Margarita, for they add that you preserve the hearts of these faithful friends in gold boxes10, and that occasionally you bestow a melancholy thought, a pious glance on the sad remains. You sigh, my queen, your eyes droop; it is true. Well! make me the dearest and the happiest of your favorites. You have pierced the hearts of others, and you keep their hearts. You do more with me, you expose my head. Well, Marguerite, swear to me before the image of the God who has saved my life in this very place, swear to me, that if I die for you, as a sad presentiment tells me I shall do, swear to me that you will keep my head, which the hangman will separate from my body; and that you will sometimes press your lips to it. Swear, Marguerite, and the promise of such reward bestowed by my queen will make me silent, and, if necessary, a traitor and a coward; this is being wholly devoted, as your lover and your accomplice should be.”
10 She was in the habit of carrying a large farthingale, containing pockets, in each of which she put a gold box in which was the heart of one of her dead lovers; for she was careful as they died to have their hearts embalmed. This farthingale hung every night from a hook which was secured by a padlock behind the headboard of her bed. (Tallemant Des Réaux, History of Marguerite of Valois.)
“Oh! what ghastly foolishness, dear heart!” said Marguerite. “Oh! fatal thought, sweet love.”
“Yes, on this silver chest with its cross. Swear.”
“Well!” said Marguerite, “if — and God forbid! — your gloomy presentiment is realized, my fine gentleman, on this cross I swear to you that you shall be near me, living or dead, so long as I live; and if I am unable to rescue you from the peril which comes to you through me, through me alone, I will at least give to your poor soul the consolation for which you ask, and which you will so well have deserved.”
“One word more, Marguerite. I can die now. I shall not mind death; but I can live, too, for we may succeed. The King of Navarre, king, you may be queen, in which case he will take you away. This vow of separation between you will some day be broken, and will do away with ours. Now, Marguerite, my well-beloved Marguerite, with a word you have taken away my every fear of death; now with a word keep up my courage concerning life.”
“Oh, fear nothing, I am yours, body and soul!” cried Marguerite, again raising her hand to the cross on the little chest. “If I leave, you follow, and if the king refuses to take you, then I shall not go.”
“But you dare not resist!”
“My well-beloved Hyacinthe,” said Marguerite, “you do not know Henry. At present he is thinking of only one thing, that is, of being king. For this he would sacrifice everything he owns, and, still more, what he does not own. Now, adieu!”
“Madame,” said La Mole, smiling, “are you going to send me away?”
“It is late,” said Marguerite.
“No doubt; but where would you have me go? Monsieur de Mouy is in my room with Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon.”
“Ah! yes,” said Marguerite, with a beautiful smile. “Besides, I have still some things to tell you about this conspiracy.”
From that night La Mole was no longer an ordinary favorite. He well might carry his head high, for which, living or dead, so sweet a future was in store.
And yet at times his weary brow was bent, his cheek grew pale, and deep thoughts ploughed their furrows on the forehead of the young man, once so light-hearted, now so happy!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07