While all this careless, light-hearted youth, apparently so at least, was scattering like a gilded whirlwind along the road to Bondy, Catharine, still rolling up the precious parchment to which King Charles had just affixed his signature, admitted into her room a man to whom, a few days before, her captain of the guards had carried a letter, addressed to Rue de la Cerisaie, near the Arsenal.
A broad silk band like a badge of mourning hid one of the man’s eyes, showing only the other eye, two prominent cheek-bones, and the curve of a vulture’s nose, while a grayish beard covered the lower part of his face. He wore a long thick cloak, beneath which one might have imagined a whole arsenal. Besides this, although it was not the custom of those called to court, he wore at his side a long campaign sword, broad, and with a double blade. One of his hands was hidden beneath his cloak, and never left the handle of a long dagger.
“Ah! you here, monsieur?” said the queen seating herself; “you know that I promised you after Saint Bartholomew, when you rendered us such signal service, not to let you be idle. The opportunity has arisen, or rather I have made it. Thank me, therefore.”
“Madame, I humbly thank your majesty,” replied the man with the black bandage, in a reserved voice at once low and insolent.
“A fine opportunity; you will not find another such in your whole life. Make the most of it, therefore.”
“I am waiting, madame, only after the preamble, I fear”—
“That the commission may not be much? Are not those who wish to advance fond of such commissions? The one of which I speak would be envied by the Tavannes and even by the De Guises.”
“Ah! madame,” said the man, “believe me, I am at your majesty’s orders, whatever they may be.”
“In that case, read,” said Catharine.
She handed him the parchment. The man read it and grew pale.
“What!” he exclaimed, “an order to arrest the King of Navarre!”
“Well! what is there strange in that?”
“But a king, madame! Really, I think — I fear I am not of sufficiently high rank.”
“My confidence makes you the first gentleman of my court, Monsieur de Maurevel,” said Catharine.
“I thank your majesty,” said the assassin so moved that he seemed to hesitate.
“You will obey, then?”
“If your majesty orders it, is it not my duty?”
“Yes, I order it.”
“Then I will obey.”
“How shall you go to work?”
“Why, madame, I do not know, I should greatly like to be guided by your majesty.”
“You fear noise?”
“I admit it.”
“Take a dozen sure men, if necessary.”
“I understand, of course, that your majesty will permit me to do the best I can for myself, and I am grateful to you for this; but where shall I arrest the King of Navarre?”
“Where would it best please you to arrest him?”
“In some place in which I should be warranted in doing so, if possible, even by his Majesty.”
“Yes, I understand, in some royal palace; what do you say to the Louvre, for instance?”
“Oh, if your majesty would permit it, that would be a great favor.”
“You will arrest him, then, in the Louvre.”
“In what part?”
“In his own room.”
“This evening, or rather to-night.”
“Very well, madame. Now, will your majesty deign to inform me on one point?”
“On what point?”
“About the respect due to his position.”
“Respect! position!” said Catharine, “why, then, you do not know, monsieur, that the King of France owes respect to no one in his kingdom, whoever he may be, recognizing no position as equal to his own?”
Maurevel bowed a second time.
“I insist on this point, however, madame, if your majesty will allow me.”
“I will, monsieur.”
“If the king contests the authenticity of the order, which is not probable, but”—
“On the contrary, monsieur, he is sure to do so.”
“He will contest it?”
“Without a doubt.”
“And consequently he will refuse to obey it?”
“I fear so.”
“And he will resist?”
“Ah! the devil!” said Maurevel; “and in that case”—
“In what case?” said Catharine, not moving her eyes from him.
“Why, in case he resists, what is to be done?”
“What do you do when you are given an order from the King, that is, when you represent the King, and when there is any resistance, Monsieur de Maurevel?”
“Why, madame,” said the sbirro, “when I am honored with such an order, and when this order refers to a simple gentleman, I kill him.”
“I told you, monsieur,” said Catharine, “and I scarcely think that sufficient time has elapsed for you to have forgotten it, that the King of France recognizes no position in his kingdom, and that after him the greatest are simple gentlemen.”
Maurevel grew pale, for he was beginning to comprehend.
“Oh! oh!” he cried, “kill the King of Navarre?”
“Why, who is speaking of killing him? Where is the order to kill him? The King wishes him taken to the Bastille, and the order contains nothing more. If he lets himself be arrested, very good; but as he will not let himself be arrested, as he will resist, as he will endeavor to kill you”—
Maurevel grew paler.
“You will defend yourself,” continued Catharine. “One cannot ask a brave man like you to let himself be killed without defending himself; and in defending yourself, what can you expect? You must let come what may. You understand me, do you not?”
“Yes, madame; and yet”—
“Come, do you want me to write dead or alive after the words order to arrest?”
“I confess, madame, that that would do away with my scruples.”
“Well, it must be done, of course, since you do not think the order can be carried out without it.”
And Catharine shrugged her shoulders, unrolled the parchment with one hand, and wrote with the other: “dead or alive.”
“Now,” said she, “do you consider the order all right?”
“Yes, madame,” replied Maurevel; “but I beg your majesty to leave the carrying out of the entire affair to me.”
“What have I said that will interfere with it?”
“Your majesty told me to take a dozen men.”
“Yes, to make sure”—
“Well, I ask permission to take only six.”
“Because, madame, if anything happens to the prince, as it probably will, it would be easy to excuse six men for having been afraid of losing the prisoner, but no one would excuse a dozen guards for not having let half of their number be killed before laying hands on royalty.”
“Fine royalty, in truth, which has no kingdom.”
“Madame,” said Maurevel, “it is not the kingdom which makes the king: it is birth.”
“Very well,” said Catharine; “do as you please. Only I must warn you that I do not wish you to leave the Louvre.”
“But, madame, to get my men together?”
“Have you not a sort of sergeant whom you can charge with this duty?”
“I have my lackey, who not only is a faithful fellow, but who has even occasionally aided me in this sort of thing.”
“Send for him, and confer with him. You know the chamber hung with the King’s arms, do you not? Well, your breakfast shall be served there; and from there you shall give your orders. The place will aid you to collect your wits in case they are scattered. Then when my son returns from the hunt, you are to go into my oratory, and wait until the time comes.”
“But how are we to get into the room? Probably the king suspects something, and he will shut himself up in it.”
“I have a duplicate key to every door,” said Catharine, “and the bolts have been removed from Henry’s room. Adieu, Monsieur de Maurevel, for a while. I will have you taken to the King’s armory. Ah! by the way! remember that the order of a King must be carried out before anything else. No excuse is admissible; a defeat, even a failure, would compromise the honor of the King. It is a serious matter.”
And Catharine, without giving Maurevel time to answer, called Monsieur de Nancey, the captain of the guards, and ordered him to conduct Maurevel to the king’s armory.
“My God!” exclaimed Maurevel as he followed his guide, “I have risen to the hierarchy of assassination; from a simple gentleman to a captain, from a captain to an admiral, from an admiral to a king without a crown. Who knows if I shall not some day be a king with a crown!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07