Marguerite de Valois, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 29.

The Departure.

When on the following day a beautiful sun, red but rayless, as is apt to be the case on privileged days of winter, rose behind the hills of Paris, everything had already been awake for two hours in the court of the Louvre. A magnificent Barbary horse, nervous and spirited, with limbs like those of a stag, on which the veins crossed one another like network, pawed the ground, pricked up his ears and snorted, while waiting for Charles IX. He was less impatient, however, than his master who, detained by Catharine, had been stopped by her in the hall. She had said she wished to speak to him on a matter of importance. Both were in the corridor with the glass windows. Catharine was cold, pale, and quiet as usual. Charles IX. fretted, bit his nails, and whipped his two favorite dogs. The latter were covered with cuirasses of mail, so that the snout of the wild boar should not harm them, and that they might be able to encounter the terrible animal with impunity. A small scutcheon with the arms of France had been stitched on their breasts similar to those on the breasts of the pages, who, more than once, had envied the privileges of these happy favorites.

“Pay attention, Charles,” said Catharine, “no one but you and I knows as yet of the expected arrival of these Polonais. But, God forgive me, the King of Navarre acts as if he knew. In spite of his abjuration, which I always mistrust, he is in communication with the Huguenots. Have you noticed how often he has gone out the past few days? He has money, too, he who has never had any. He buys horses, arms, and on rainy days he practises fencing from morning until night.”

“Well, my God, mother!” exclaimed Charles IX., impatiently, “do you think he intends to kill me, or my brother D’Anjou? In that case he will need a few more lessons, for yesterday I counted eleven buttonholes with my foil on his doublet, which, however, had only six. And as to my brother D’Anjou, you know that he fences as well if not better than I do; at least so people say.”

“Listen, Charles,” continued Catharine, “and do not treat lightly what your mother tells you. The ambassadors will arrive; well, you will see! As soon as they are in Paris, Henry will do all he can to gain their attention. He is insinuating, he is crafty; without mentioning his wife who seconds him, I know not why, and will chat with them, and talk Latin, Greek, Hungarian, and I know not what, to them! Oh, I tell you, Charles — and you know that I am not mistaken — I tell you that there is something on foot.”

Just then the clock struck and Charles IX. stopped listening to his mother to count the strokes.

“Good heavens! seven o’clock!” he exclaimed, “one hour before we get off, that will make it eight; one hour to reach the meeting-place, and to start again — we shall not be able to begin hunting before nine o’clock. Really, mother, you make me lose a great deal of time! Down, Risquetout! great Heavens! down, I say, you brigand!”

And a vigorous blow of the bloody whip on the mastiff’s back brought a howl of real pain from the poor beast, thoroughly astonished at receiving punishment in exchange for a caress.

“Charles!” said Catharine, “listen to me, in God’s name, and do not leave to chance your fortune and that of France! The hunt, the hunt, the hunt, you cry; why, you will have time enough to hunt when your work of king is settled.”

“Come now, mother!” exclaimed Charles, pale with impatience, “explain quickly, for you bother me to death. Really, there are days when I cannot comprehend you.”

He stopped beating his whip against his boot.

Catharine thought that the time had come and that it should not be passed by.

“My son,” said she, “we have proof that De Mouy has returned to Paris. Monsieur de Maurevel, whom you are well acquainted with, has seen him. This can be only for the King of Navarre. That is enough, I trust, for us to suspect him more than ever.”

“Come, there you go again after my poor Henriot! You want me to have him killed; do you not?”

“Oh, no.”

“Exiled? But why can you not see that if he were exiled he would be much more dangerous than he will ever be here, in the Louvre, under our eyes, where he can do nothing without our knowing it at once?”

“Therefore I do not wish him exiled.”

“What do you want, then? Tell me quickly!”

“I want him to be held in safe keeping while these Polonais are here; in the Bastille, for instance.”

“Ah! my faith, no!” cried Charles IX. “We are going to hunt the boar this morning and Henry is one of my best men. Without him the fun would be spoiled. By Heaven, mother! really, you do nothing but vex me.”

“Why, my dear son, I did not say this morning. The ambassadors do not arrive until tomorrow or the day after. Arrest him after your hunt, this evening — to-night”—

“That is a different matter. Well, we will talk about it later and see. After the hunt I will not refuse. Adieu! Come here, Risquetout! Is it your turn to sulk now?”

“Charles,” said Catharine, laying a detaining hand on his arm at the risk of a fresh explosion which might result from this new delay, “I think that the best thing to do is to sign the order for arrest at once, even though it is not to be carried out until this evening or to-night.”

“Sign, write an order, look up a seal for the parchment when they are waiting for me to go hunting, I, who never keep anyone waiting! The devil take the thought!”

“Why, no, I love you too dearly to delay you. I arranged everything beforehand; step in here and see!”

And Catharine, as agile as if she were only twenty years old, pushed open a door of her cabinet, and pointed to an ink-stand, pen, parchment, the seal, and a lighted candle.

The king took the parchment and read it through hastily.

Order, etc., etc., to arrest and conduct to the Bastille our brother Henry of Navarre.

“Good, that is done!” he exclaimed, signing hurriedly. “Adieu, mother.”

He hastened from the room, followed by his dogs, greatly pleased to have gotten rid of Catharine so easily.

Charles IX. had been waited for with impatience, and as his promptness in hunting matters was well known, every one wondered at the delay. So when he finally appeared, the hunters welcomed him by shouts of “Long live the King!” the outriders by a flourish of trumpets, the horses by neighing, the dogs by barking. All this noise and hubbub brought a flush to his pale cheeks, his heart swelled, and for a moment Charles was young and happy.

The King scarcely took the time to salute the brilliant company gathered in the court-yard. He nodded to the Duc d’Alençon, waved his hand to his sister Marguerite, passed Henry without apparently seeing him, and sprang upon the fiery Barbary horse, which started off at once. But after curvetting around three or four times, he realized what sort of a rider he had to deal with and quieted down. The trumpets again sounded, and the King left the Louvre followed by the Duc d’Alençon, the King of Navarre, Marguerite, Madame de Nevers, Madame de Sauve, Tavannes, and the principal courtiers.

It goes without saying that La Mole and Coconnas were of the number.

As to the Duc d’Anjou, he had been at the siege of La Rochelle for three months.

While waiting for the King, Henry had spoken to his wife, who in returning his greeting had whispered,

“The courier from Rome was admitted by Monsieur de Coconnas himself to the chamber of the Duc d’Alençon a quarter of an hour before the messenger from the Duc de Nevers saw the King.”

“Then he knows all,” said Henry.

“He must know all,” replied Marguerite; “but keep your eyes on him and see how, in spite of his usual dissimulation, his eyes shine.”

Ventre saint gris!” murmured the Béarnais. “I should think they would; he hunts triple game today: France, Poland, and Navarre, without counting the wild boar.”

He bowed to his wife, returned to his place, and calling one of his servants whose ancestors had been in the service of his father for more than a century, and whom he employed as ordinary messenger in his love affairs:

“Orthon,” said he, “take this key to the cousin of Madame de Sauve, who you know lives with his mistress at the corner of the Rue des Quatre Fils. Say to him that his cousin desires to speak to him this evening; that he is to enter my room, and, in case I am not there, to wait for me. If I am late, he is to lie down on my bed.”

“Is there an answer, sire?”

“No, except to tell me if you find him. The key is for him alone, you understand?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Wait; do not start now, plague you! Before leaving Paris I will call you to tighten my saddle-girths; in that way you will naturally have to lag behind, and you can carry out your commission and join us at Bondy.”

The servant made a sign of obedience and rode away.

They set out by the Rue Saint Honoré, through the Rue Saint Denis, and the Faubourg. At the Rue Saint Laurent the saddle-girths of the King of Navarre became loose. Orthon rode up to him, and everything happened as had been agreed on between him and his master, who followed the royal procession along the Rue des Récollets, where his faithful servant sought the Rue du Temple.

When Henry overtook the King, Charles was engaged in such an interesting conversation with the Duc d’Alençon, on the subject of the weather, the age of the wild boar which was a recluse, and as to where he had made his lair, that he did not notice, or pretended he did not notice, that Henry had lagged behind a moment.

In the meantime Marguerite had watched each countenance from afar and thought she perceived a certain embarrassment in the eyes of her brother every time she looked at him. Madame de Nevers was abandoning herself to mad gayety, for Coconnas, supremely happy that day, was making numberless jokes near her to make the ladies laugh.

As to La Mole he had already twice found an opportunity to kiss Marguerite’s white scarf with gold fringe, without the act, which was carried out with the skill usual to lovers, having been seen by more than three or four.

About a quarter-past eight they reached Bondy. The first thought of Charles IX. was to find out if the wild boar had held out.

The boar was in his lair, and the outrider who had turned him aside answered for him. A breakfast was ready. The King drank a glass of Hungarian wine. Charles IX. invited the ladies to take seats at table, and in his impatience to pass away the time set out to visit the kennels and the roosts, giving orders not to unsaddle his horse, as he said he had never had a better or a stronger mount.

While the King was taking this stroll, the Duc de Guise arrived. He was armed for war rather than for hunting, and was accompanied by twenty or thirty gentlemen equipped in like manner. He asked at once for the King, joined him, and returned talking with him.

At exactly nine o’clock the King himself gave the signal to start, and each one mounted and set out to the meet. During the ride Henry found another opportunity to be near his wife.

“Well,” said he, “do you know anything new?”

“No,” replied Marguerite, “unless it is that my brother Charles looks at you strangely.”

“I have noticed it,” said Henry.

“Have you taken precautions?”

“I have on a coat of mail, and at my side a good Spanish hunting knife, as sharp as a razor, and as pointed as a needle. I could pierce pistols with it.”

“In that case,” said Marguerite, “God protect you!”

The outrider in charge of the hunt made a sign. They had reached the lair.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53