In saving the life of Charles, Henry had done more than save the life of a man — he had prevented three kingdoms from changing sovereigns.
Had Charles IX. been killed, the Duc d’Anjou would have become King of France, and the Duc d’Alençon in all probability would have been King of Poland. As to Navarre, as Monsieur le Duc d’Anjou was the lover of Madame de Condé, its crown would probably have paid to the husband the complacency of his wife. Now in all this no good would have come to Henry. He would have changed masters, that would have been all. Instead of Charles IX. who tolerated him, he would have seen the Duc d’Anjou on the throne of France, and being of one heart and mind with his mother Catharine, the latter had sworn that he should die, and he would not have failed to keep his oath. All these thoughts entered his mind when the wild boar sprang at Charles IX., and we know that the result of his rapid thinking was that his own life was attached to that of Charles IX.
Charles IX. had been saved by an act of devotion, the motive of which the King could not fathom. But Marguerite had understood, and she had admired that strange courage of Henry which, like flashes of lightning, shone only in a storm.
Unfortunately it was not all to have escaped the kingdom of the Duc d’Anjou. Henry had to make himself king. He had to dispute Navarre with the Duc d’Alençon and with the Prince of Condé; above all he had to leave the court where one walked only between two precipices, and go away protected by a son of France.
As he returned from Bondy Henry pondered deeply on the situation. On arriving at the Louvre his plan was formed. Without removing his riding-boots, just as he was, covered with dust and blood, he betook himself to the apartments of the Duc d’Alençon, whom he found striding up and down in great agitation.
On perceiving him the prince gave a start of surprise.
“Yes,” said Henry, taking him by both hands; “yes, I understand, my good brother, you are angry because I was the first to call the King’s attention to the fact that your ball struck the leg of his horse instead of the boar, as you intended it should. But what can you expect? I could not prevent an exclamation of surprise. Besides, the King would have noticed it, would he not?”
“No doubt, no doubt,” murmured D’Alençon. “And yet I can think of it only as an evil intention on your part to denounce me as you did, and which, as you yourself saw, had no result except to make my brother Charles suspect me, and to make hard feeling between us.”
“We will return to this in a few moments. As to my good or evil intentions regarding you, I have come to you on purpose that you may judge them.”
“Very good!” said D’Alençon with his customary reserve. “Speak, Henry, I am listening.”
“When I have spoken, François, you will readily see what my intentions are, for the confidence I am going to place in you does away with all reserve and prudence. And when I have told you, you will be able to ruin me by a single word!”
“What is it?” said François, beginning to be anxious.
“And yet,” continued Henry, “I have hesitated a long time to speak to you of the thing which brings me here, especially after the way in which you turned a deaf ear today.”
“Really,” said François, growing pale, “I do not know what you mean, Henry.”
“Brother, your interests are too dear to me not to tell you that the Huguenots have made advances to me.”
“Advances!” said D’Alençon. “What advances?”
“One of them, Monsieur de Mouy of Saint Phal, the son of the brave De Mouy, assassinated by Maurevel, you know”—
“Well, he came at the risk of his life to show me that I was in captivity.”
“Ah! indeed! and what did you say to him?”
“Brother, you know that I love Charles dearly. He has saved my life, and the queen mother has been like a real mother to me. So I refused all the offers he made me.”
“What were these offers?”
“The Huguenots want to reconstruct the throne of Navarre, and as in reality this throne belongs to me by inheritance, they offered it to me.”
“Yes; and Monsieur de Mouy, instead of the consent he expected to ask for, has received your relinquishment?”
“My formal relinquishment — even in writing. But since,” continued Henry.
“You have repented, brother?” interrupted D’Alençon.
“No, I merely thought I noticed that Monsieur de Mouy had become discontented with me, and was paying his visits elsewhere.”
“Where?” asked François quickly.
“I do not know. At the Prince of Condé‘s perhaps.”
“Yes, that might be,” said the duke.
“Besides,” went on Henry, “I have positive knowledge as to the leader he has chosen.”
François grew pale.
“But,” continued Henry, “the Huguenots are divided among themselves, and De Mouy, brave and loyal as he is, represents only one-half of the party. Now this other half, which is not to be scorned, has not given up the hope of having Henry of Navarre on the throne, who having hesitated at first may have reflected since.”
“You think this?”
“Oh, every day I receive proofs of it. The troops which joined us at the hunt, did you notice of what men it was composed?”
“Yes, of converted gentlemen.”
“Did you recognize the leader of the troop who signed to me?”
“Yes, it was the Vicomte de Turenne.”
“Did you know what they wanted of me?”
“Yes, they proposed to you to escape.”
“Then,” said Henry to François, who was growing restless, “there is evidently a second party which wants something else besides what Monsieur de Mouy wants.”
“A second party?”
“Yes, and a very powerful one, I tell you, so that in order to succeed it is necessary to unite the two — Turenne and De Mouy. The conspiracy progresses, the troops are ready, the signal alone is waited for. Now in this supreme situation, which demands prompt solution on my part, I have come to two decisions between which I am wavering. I have come to submit these decisions to you as to a friend.”
“Say rather as to a brother.”
“Yes, as to a brother,” went on Henry.
“Speak, then, I am listening.”
“In the first place I ought to explain to you the condition of my mind, my dear François. No desire, no ambition, no ability. I am an honest country gentleman, poor, sensual, and timid. The career of conspirator offers me indignities poorly compensated for even by the certain prospect of a crown.”
“Ah, brother,” said François, “you do wrong. Sad indeed is the position of a prince whose fortune is limited by the boundary of the paternal estate or by a man in a career for honors! I do not believe, therefore, in what you tell me.”
“And yet what I tell you is so true, brother, that if I thought I had a true friend, I would resign in his favor the power which this party wishes to give me; but,” he added with a sigh, “I have none.”
“Perhaps you have. You probably are mistaken.”
“No, ventre saint gris!” said Henry, “except yourself, brother, I see no one who is attached to me; so that rather than let fail an attempt which might bring to light some unworthy man, I truly prefer to inform my brother the King of what is taking place. I will mention no names, I will designate neither country nor date, but I will foretell the catastrophe.”
“Great God!” exclaimed D’Alençon unable to repress his terror, “what do you mean? What! you, you, the sole hope of the party since the death of the admiral; you, a converted Huguenot, a poor convert, or at least such you were thought to be, you would raise the knife against your brothers! Henry, Henry, by doing this, do you know that you would be delivering to a second Saint Bartholomew all the Calvinists in the kingdom? Do you know that Catharine is waiting for just such a chance to exterminate all who have survived?”
And the duke trembling, his face spotted with red and white blotches, pressed Henry’s hand to beg him to give up this idea which would ruin him.
“What!” said Henry, with an expression of perfect good-humor, “do you think there would be so much trouble, François? With the King’s word, however, it seems to me that I should avoid it.”
“The word of King Charles IX., Henry! Did not the admiral have it? Did not Téligny have it? Did not you yourself have it? Oh, Henry, I tell you if you do this, you will ruin us all. Not only them, but all who have had direct or indirect relations with them.”
Henry seemed to ponder an instant.
“If I were an important prince at court,” said he, “I should act differently. In your place, for instance, in your place, François, a son of France, and probable heir to the crown”—
François shook his head ironically.
“In my place,” said he, “what would you do?”
“In your place, brother,” replied Henry, “I should place myself at the head of the movement and direct it. My name and my credit should answer to my conscience for the life of the rebellious, and I should derive some benefit first for myself, then for the King, perhaps, from an enterprise which otherwise might do the greatest injury to France.”
D’Alençon listened to these words with a joy which caused every muscle of his face to expand.
“Do you think,” said he, “that this method is practicable and that it would save us all the disasters you foresee?”
“I think so,” said Henry. “The Huguenots love you. Your bearing is modest, your position both high and interesting, and the kindness you have always shown to those of the faith will incline them to serve you.”
“But,” said D’Alençon, “there is a division in the party. Will those who want you want me?”
“I will undertake to bring them together by two means.”
“First, by the confidence the leaders have in me; then by the fear that your highness, knowing their names”—
“But who will tell me these names?”
“I, ventre saint gris!”
“You will do that?”
“Listen, François; as I told you, you are the only one I love at court,” said Henry. “This, no doubt, is because you are persecuted like myself; and then my wife, too, loves you with an affection which is unequalled”—
François flushed with pleasure.
“Believe me, brother,” continued Henry; “take this thing in hand, reign in Navarre; and provided you keep a place at your table for me, and a fine forest in which to hunt, I shall consider myself fortunate.”
“Reign in Navarre!” said the duke; “but if”—
“If the Duc d’Anjou is chosen King of Poland; is that it? I will finish your thought for you.”
François looked at Henry with something like terror.
“Well, listen, François,” continued Henry, “since nothing escapes you. This is how I reason: If the Duc d’Anjou is chosen King of Poland, and our brother Charles, God keep him! should happen to die, it is but two hundred leagues from Pau to Paris, while it is four hundred from Paris to Cracovie. So you would be here to receive the inheritance by the time the King of Poland learned it was vacant. Then, if you are satisfied with me, you could give me the kingdom of Navarre, which would thenceforth be merely one of the jewels in your crown. In that way I would accept it. The worst that could happen to you would be that you would remain king there and bring up a race of kings by living with me and my family, while here, what are you? a poor persecuted prince, a poor third son of a king, the slave of two elder brothers, and one whom a whim may send to the Bastille.”
“Yes, yes,” said François; “I know that very well, so well that I do not see why you should give up this plan you propose to me. Is there no throb there?”
And the Duc d’Alençon put his hand on his brother’s heart.
“There are,” said Henry, smiling, “burdens too heavy for some hands; therefore I shall not try to raise this one; fear of fatigue is greater than the desire of possession.”
“So, Henry, you really renounce it?”
“I said so to De Mouy and I repeat it to you.”
“But in such cases, my dear brother,” said D’Alençon, “one does not say, one proves.”
Henry breathed like a pugilist who feels his enemy’s back bending.
“I will prove it this evening,” said he. “At nine o’clock we shall have the names of the leaders and the plan of the undertaking. I have already sent my renunciation to De Mouy.”
François took Henry’s hand and pressed it effusively between his own.
At that moment Catharine entered the Duc d’Alençon’s rooms, unannounced, as was her habit.
“Together!” said she, smiling; “two good brothers, truly!”
“I trust so, madame,” said Henry, with great coolness, while the Duc d’Alençon turned white from distress.
Henry stepped back to leave Catharine free to speak with her son.
The queen mother drew a magnificent jewel from her bag.
“This clasp comes from Florence,” said she. “I will give it to you for the belt of your sword.”
Then in a low tone:
“If to-night you hear any noise in your good brother Henry’s room, do not stir.”
François pressed his mother’s hand, and said:
“Will you allow me to show Henry the beautiful gift you have just given me?”
“You may do more. Give it to him in your name and in mine, for I have ordered a second one just like it.”
“You hear, Henry,” said François, “my good mother brings me this jewel and doubles its value by allowing me to give it to you.”
Henry went into ecstasies over the beauty of the clasp, and was enthusiastic in his thanks. When his delight had grown calmer:
“My son,” said Catharine, “I feel somewhat indisposed and I am going to bed; your brother Charles is greatly wearied from his fall and is going to do the same. So we shall not have supper together this evening, but each will be served in his own room. Oh, Henry, I forgot to congratulate you on your bravery and quickness. You saved your king and your brother, and you shall be rewarded for it.”
“I am already rewarded, madame,” replied Henry, bowing.
“By the feeling that you have done your duty?” replied Catharine. “That is not enough, and Charles and I will do something to pay the debt we owe you.”
“Everything that comes to me from you and my good brother will be welcome, madame.”
Then he bowed and withdrew.
“Ah! brother François!” thought Henry as he left, “I am sure now of not leaving alone, and the conspiracy which had a body has found a head and a heart. Only let us look out for ourselves. Catharine gives me a present, Catharine promises me a reward. There is some deviltry beneath it all. I must confer this evening with Marguerite.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53