Several days elapsed after the events we have just described, when one morning a litter escorted by several gentlemen wearing the colors of Monsieur de Guise entered the Louvre, and word was brought to the Queen of Navarre that Madame la Duchesse de Nevers begged the honor of an audience. Marguerite was receiving a call from Madame de Sauve. It was the first time the beautiful baroness had been out since her pretended illness. She knew that the queen had expressed to her husband great anxiety on account of her indisposition, which for almost a week had been court gossip, and she had come to thank her.
Marguerite congratulated her on her convalescence and on her good fortune at having recovered so quickly from the strange malady, the seriousness of which as a daughter of France she could not fail to appreciate.
“I trust you will attend the hunt, already once postponed,” said Marguerite. “It is planned positively for tomorrow. For winter, the weather is very mild. The sun has softened the earth, and the hunters all say that the day will be fine.”
“But, madame,” said the baroness, “I do not know if I shall be strong enough.”
“Bah!” exclaimed Marguerite, “make an effort; moreover, since I am one of the hunters, I have told the King to reserve a small Béarnese horse which I was to ride, but which will carry you perfectly. Have you not already heard of it?”
“Yes, madame, but I did not know that it was meant for your majesty. Had I known that I should not have accepted it.”
“From a feeling of pride, baroness?”
“No, madame, from a feeling of humility, on the contrary.”
“Then you will come?”
“Your majesty overwhelms me with honor. I will come, since you command me.”
At that moment Madame la Duchesse de Nevers was announced. At this name Marguerite gave a cry of such delight that the baroness understood that the two women wanted to talk together. She rose to leave.
“Until tomorrow, then,” said Marguerite.
“Until tomorrow, madame.”
“By the way,” continued Marguerite holding the baroness by the hand, “you know that in public I hate you, for I am horribly jealous of you.”
“But in private?” asked Madame de Sauve.
“Oh! in private, not only do I forgive you, but more than that, I thank you.”
“Then your majesty will permit me”—
Marguerite held out her hand, the baroness kissed it respectfully, made a low courtesy and went out.
While Madame de Sauve ascended her stairway, bounding like a deer whose tether has been broken, Madame de Nevers was exchanging a few formal words with the queen, which gave time to the gentlemen who had accompanied her to retire.
“Gillonne,” cried Marguerite when the door was closed behind the last, “Gillonne, see that no one interrupts us.”
“Yes,” said the duchess, “for we have matters of grave importance to discuss.”
Taking a chair she seated herself without ceremony in the best place near the fire and in the sunlight, sure that no one would interrupt the pleasant intimacy between herself and the Queen of Navarre.
“Well,” said Marguerite, with a smile, “what about our famous slaughterer?”
“My dear queen,” said the duchess, “he is a mythological creature, upon my word. He is incomparable, so far as his mind is concerned, and never dries up. He makes witty remarks that would make a saint in her shrine die of laughing. In other respects he is the maddest heathen who ever walked in the skin of a Catholic! I dote on him! And you, what are you doing with your Apollo?”
“Alas!” said Marguerite with a sigh.
“Oh, how that ‘alas!’ frightens me, dear queen! Is the gentle La Mole too respectful or too sentimental? In that, I am forced to admit he would be exactly the opposite of his friend Coconnas.”
“Oh, no, he has his moments,” said Marguerite, “but this ‘alas!’ concerned only myself.”
“What does it mean, then?”
“It means, dear duchess, that I am terribly afraid I am actually in love.”
“On my honor!”
“Oh! so much the better! What a merry life we can lead!” cried Henriette. “To love a little is my dream; to love much, is yours. It is so sweet, dear and learned queen, to rest the mind by the heart, is it not? and to have the smile after the delirium. Ah, Marguerite, I have a feeling that we are going to have a glorious year!”
“Do you think so?” said the queen. “I, on the contrary, do not know how that may be; I see things through a veil. All these politics occupy me so much. By the way, do you know if your Annibal is as devoted to my brother as he seems to be? Find out for me. I must know.”
“He, devoted to anybody or anything! It is easy to see that you do not know him as I do. If he ever is devoted to anything it will be his ambition, and that is all. If your brother is a man to make great promises to him, well, he will be devoted to your brother; but let your brother, son of France that he is, be careful not to break the promises he makes him. If he does, my faith, look out for your brother!”
“It is just as I say. Truly, Marguerite, there are times when this tiger whom I have tamed frightens me. The other day I said to him, ‘Annibal, be careful, do not deceive me, for if you do!’— I said it, however, with my emerald eyes which prompted Ronsard’s lines:
“‘La Duchesse de Nevers,11
Aux yeux verts,
Qui, sous leur paupière blonde
Lancent sur nous plus d’éclairs
Que ne font vingt Jupiters
Dans les airs
Lorsque la tempête gronde.’”
11 Fair duchess, your dear eyes
Are emerald skies,
Half hid ‘neath cloud-lids white,
Whence fiercer lightning flies,
Launched forth for our surprise,
Than could arise
From twenty Joves in furious might.
“Well, I supposed he would answer me: ‘I deceive you! I! never! etc., etc.’ But do you know what he did answer?”
“Well, judge of the man! ‘And you,’ he replied, ‘if you deceive me, you take care too, for, princess that you are’— and as he said this he threatened me not only with his eyes, but with his slender pointed finger, with its nail cut like a steel lance, which he held before my nose. At that moment, my poor queen, I confess he looked so fierce that I trembled, and yet you know I am no coward.”
“He threatened you, Henriette, he dared?”
“Well, I had threatened him! For that matter he was right. So you see he is devoted up to a certain point, or rather to a very uncertain point.”
“In that case we shall see,” said Marguerite thoughtfully; “I will speak to La Mole. Have you nothing else to tell me?”
“Yes; something most interesting for which I came. But, the idea, you have told me more interesting things still. I have received news.”
“Yes, through a courier from my husband.”
“Ah! the Poland affair?”
“It is progressing beautifully, and probably in a day or two you will be rid of your brother of Anjou.”
“So the pope has ratified his election?”
“Yes, my dear.”
“And you never told me!” cried Marguerite. “Well, quick, quick, the details.”
“Oh, mercy, I have none except those I have given you. But wait, I will give you the letter from Monsieur de Nevers. Here it is. Oh, no, those are some verses from Annibal, atrocious ones too, my poor Marguerite. He can not write any other kind. But wait, here it is. No, it isn’t, that is a note of my own which I brought for you to have La Mole give him. Ah! at last, here it is.” And Madame de Nevers handed the letter to the queen.
Marguerite opened it hastily and read it; but it told nothing more than she had already learned from her friend.
“How did you receive this?” continued the queen.
“From a courier of my husband, who had orders to stop at the Hôtel de Guise before going to the Louvre, and to deliver this letter to me before delivering that of the King. I knew the importance my queen would attach to this news, and I had written to Monsieur de Nevers to act thus. He obeyed, you see; he is not like that monster of a Coconnas. Now there is no one in the whole of Paris, except the King, you, and I, who knows this news; except the man who followed our courier”—
“Oh! the horrid business! Imagine how tired, worn out, and dusty the wretched messenger was when he arrived! He rode seven days, day and night, without stopping an instant.”
“But the man you spoke of just now?”
“Wait a minute. Constantly followed by a wild-looking fellow who had relays like himself and who rode as far as he did for the four hundred leagues, the poor courier constantly expected to be shot in his back. Both reached the Saint Marcel gate at the same time, both galloped down the Rue Mouffetard, both crossed the city. But at the end of the bridge of Notre–Dame our courier turned to the right, while the other took the road to the left by the Place du Châtelet, and sped along the quays by the side of the Louvre, like an arrow from a bow.”
“Thanks, my good Henriette, thanks!” cried Marguerite. “You are right; that is very interesting news. By whom was the other courier sent? I must know. So leave me until this evening. Rue Tizon, is it not? and the hunt tomorrow. Do take a frisky horse, so that he will run away, and we can be by ourselves. I will tell you this evening what is necessary for you to try and find out from your Coconnas.”
“You will not forget my letter?” said the duchess of Nevers smiling.
“No, no, do not worry; he shall have it, and at once.”
Madame de Nevers left, and Marguerite immediately sent for Henry, who came to her quickly. She gave him the letter from the Duc de Nevers.
“Oh! oh!” he exclaimed.
Then Marguerite told him about the second courier.
“Yes,” said Henry; “I saw him enter the Louvre.”
“Perhaps he was for the queen mother.”
“No, I am sure of that, for I ventured to take my stand in the corridor, and I saw no one pass.”
“Then,” said Marguerite, looking at her husband, “he must be”—
“For your brother D’Alençon, must he not?” said Henry.
“Yes; but how can we be sure?”
“Could not one of his two gentlemen be sent for?” said Henry, carelessly, “and through him”—
“You are right,” said Marguerite, put at her ease at her husband’s suggestion. “I will send for Monsieur de la Mole. Gillonne! Gillonne!”
The young girl appeared.
“I must speak at once with Monsieur de la Mole,” said the queen. “Try to find him and bring him here.”
Gillonne disappeared. Henry seated himself before a table on which was a German book containing engravings by Albert Durer, which he began to examine with such close attention that when La Mole entered he did not seem to hear him, and did not even raise his head.
On his side, the young man, seeing the king with Marguerite, stopped on the threshold, silent from surprise and pale from anxiety.
Marguerite went to him.
“Monsieur de la Mole,” said she, “can you tell me who is on guard today at Monsieur d’Alençon’s?”
“Coconnas, madame,” said La Mole.
“Try to find out for me from him if he admitted to his master’s room a man covered with mud, who apparently had a long or hasty ride.”
“Ah, madame, I fear he will not tell me; for several days he has been very taciturn.”
“Indeed! But by giving him this note, it seems to me that he will owe you something in exchange.”
“From the duchess! Oh, with this note I will try.”
“Add,” said Marguerite, lowering her voice, “that this note will serve him as a means of gaining entrance this evening to the house you know about.”
“And I, madame,” said La Mole, in a low tone, “what shall be mine?”
“Give your name. That will be enough.”
“Give me the note, madame,” said La Mole, with throbbing heart, “I will bring back the answer.”
“We shall know tomorrow if the duke has been informed of the Poland affair,” said Marguerite calmly, turning to her husband.
“That Monsieur de la Mole is really a fine servant,” said the Béarnais, with his peculiar smile, “and, by Heaven! I will make his fortune!”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49