Maurevel had spent a part of the day in the King’s armory; but when it was time for the hunters to return from the chase Catharine sent him into her oratory with the guards who had joined him.
Charles IX., informed by his nurse on his arrival that a man had spent part of the day in his room, was at first very angry that a stranger had been admitted into his apartments. But his nurse described the man, saying that he was the same one she herself had been ordered to admit one evening, and the King realized that it was Maurevel. Then remembering the order his mother had wrung from him that morning, he understood everything.
“Oh, ho!” murmured Charles, “the same day on which he has saved my life. The time is badly chosen.”
He started to go to his mother, but one thought deterred him.
“By Heaven! If I mention this to her it will result in a never-ending discussion. Better for us to act by ourselves.
“Nurse,” said he, “lock every door, and say to Queen Elizabeth12 that I am suffering somewhat from the fall I have had, and that I shall sleep alone to-night.”
12 Charles IX. had married Elizabeth of Austria, daughter of Maximilian.
The nurse obeyed, and as it was not yet time for the execution of his plan, Charles sat himself down to compose poetry. It was this occupation which made the time pass most quickly for the King. Nine o’clock struck before he thought it was more than seven. He counted the strokes of the clock one by one, and at the last he rose.
“The devil!” said he, “it is just time.” Taking his hat and cloak, he left his room by a secret door he had had made in the wall, the existence of which even Catharine herself was ignorant.
Charles went directly to Henry’s apartments. On leaving the Duc d’Alençon, the latter had gone to his room to change his clothes and had left again at once.
“He probably has decided to take supper with Margot,” said the King. “He was very pleasant with her today, at least so it seemed to me.”
He went to the queen’s apartments. Marguerite had brought back with her the Duchesse de Nevers, Coconnas, and La Mole, and was having a supper of preserves and pastry with them.
Charles knocked at the hall door, which was opened by Gillonne. But at sight of the King she was so frightened that she scarcely had sufficient presence of mind to courtesy, and instead of running to inform her mistress of the august visit she was to have, she let Charles enter without other warning than the cry that had escaped her. The King crossed the antechamber, and guided by the bursts of laughter advanced towards the dining-room.
“Poor Henriot!” said he, “he is enjoying himself without a thought of evil.”
“It is I,” said he, raising the portière and showing a smiling face.
Marguerite gave a terrible cry. Smiling as he was, his face appeared to her like the face of Medusa. Seated opposite the door, she had recognized him at once. The two men turned their backs to the King.
“Your Majesty!” cried the queen, rising in terror.
The three other guests felt their heads begin to swim; Coconnas alone retained his self-possession. He rose also, but with such tactful clumsiness that in doing so he upset the table, and with it the glass, plate, and candles. Instantly there was complete darkness and the silence of death.
“Run,” said Coconnas to La Mole; “quick! quick!”
La Mole did not wait to be told twice. Springing to the side of the wall, he began groping with his hands for the sleeping-room, that he might hide in the cabinet that opened out of it and which he knew so well. But as he stepped across the threshold he ran against a man who had just entered by the secret corridor.
“What does all this mean?” asked Charles, in the darkness, in a tone which was beginning to betray a formidable accent of impatience. “Am I such a mar-joy that the sight of me causes all this confusion? Come, Henriot! Henriot! where are you? Answer me.”
“We are saved!” murmured Marguerite, seizing a hand which she took for that of La Mole. “The King thinks my husband is one of our guests.”
“And I shall let him think so, madame, you may be sure,” said Henry, answering the queen in the same tone.
“Great God!” cried Marguerite, hastily dropping the hand she held, which was that of the King of Navarre.
“Silence!” said Henry.
“In the name of a thousand devils! why are you whispering in this way?” cried Charles. “Henry, answer me; where are you?”
“Here, sire,” said the King of Navarre.
“The devil!” said Coconnas, who was holding the Duchesse de Nevers in a corner, “the plot thickens.”
“In that case we are doubly lost,” said Henriette.
Coconnas, brave to the point of rashness, had reflected that the candles would have to be lighted sooner or later, and thinking the sooner the better, he dropped the hand of Madame de Nevers, picked up a taper from the midst of the débris, and going to a brazier blew on a piece of coal, with which he at once made a light. The chamber was again illuminated. Charles IX. glanced around inquiringly.
Henry was by the side of his wife, the Duchesse de Nevers was alone in a corner, while Coconnas stood in the centre of the room, candle-stick in hand, lighting up the whole scene.
“Excuse me, brother,” said Marguerite, “we were not expecting you.”
“So, as you may have perceived, your Majesty filled us with strange terror,” said Henriette.
“For my part,” said Henry, who had surmised everything, “I think the fear was so real that in rising I overturned the table.”
Coconnas glanced at the King of Navarre as much as to say:
“Good! Here is a man who understands at once.”
“What a frightful hubbub!” repeated Charles IX. “Your supper is ruined, Henriot; come with me and you shall finish it elsewhere; I will carry you off this evening.”
“What, sire!” said Henry, “your Majesty will do me the honor?”
“Yes, my Majesty will do you the honor of taking you away from the Louvre. Lend him to me, Margot, I will bring him back to you tomorrow morning.”
“Ah, brother,” said Marguerite, “you do not need my permission for that; you are master.”
“Sire,” said Henry, “I will get another cloak from my room, and will return immediately.”
“You do not need it, Henriot; the cloak you have is all right.”
“But, sire,” began the Béarnais.
“In the name of a thousand devils, I tell you not to go to your rooms! Do you not hear what I say? Come along!”
“Yes, yes, go!” said Marguerite, suddenly pressing her husband’s arm; for a singular look from Charles had convinced her that something unusual was going on.
“Here I am, sire,” said Henry.
Charles looked at Coconnas, who was still carrying out his office of torch-bearer by lighting the other candles.
“Who is this gentleman?” asked the King of Henry, eyeing the Piedmontese from head to foot. “Is he Monsieur de la Mole?”
“Who has told him of La Mole?” asked Marguerite in a low tone.
“No, sire,” replied Henry, “Monsieur de la Mole is not here, I regret to say. Otherwise I should have the honor of presenting him to your Majesty at the same time as Monsieur de Coconnas, his friend. They are perfectly inseparable, and both are in the suite of Monsieur d’Alençon.”
“Ah! ah! our famous marksman!” said Charles. “Good!” Then frowning:
“Is not this Monsieur de la Mole a Huguenot?” he asked.
“He is converted, sire, and I will answer for him as for myself.”
“When you answer for any one, Henriot, after what you did today, I have no further right to doubt him. But I should have liked to see this Monsieur de la Mole. However, I can meet him another time.”
Giving a last glance about the room, Charles embraced Marguerite, took hold of the arm of the King of Navarre, and led him off.
At the gate of the Louvre Henry wanted to speak to some one.
“Come, come! pass out quickly, Henriot,” said Charles. “When I tell you that the air of the Louvre is not good for you this evening, the devil! you must believe me!”
“Ventre saint gris!” murmured Henry; “and what will De Mouy do all alone in my room? I trust the air which is not good for me may be no worse for him!”
“Ah!” exclaimed the King, when Henry and he had crossed the drawbridge, “does it suit you, Henry, to have the gentlemen of Monsieur d’Alençon courting your wife?”
“How so, sire?”
“Truly, is not this Monsieur de Coconnas making eyes at Margot?”
“Who told you that?”
“Well,” said the King, “I heard it.”
“A mere joke, sire; Monsieur de Coconnas does make eyes at some one, but it is at Madame de Nevers.”
“I can answer to your Majesty for what I tell you.”
Charles burst into laughter.
“Well,” said he, “let the Duc de Guise come to me again with his gossip, and I will gently pull his mustache by telling him of the exploits of his sister-inlaw. But after all,” said the King, thinking better of it, “I do not know whether it was Monsieur de Coconnas or Monsieur de la Mole he referred to.”
“Neither the one more than the other, sire, and I can answer to you for the feelings of my wife.”
“Good, Henriot, good!” said the King. “I like you better now than the way you were before. On my honor, you are such a good fellow that I shall end by being unable to get along without you.”
As he spoke the King gave a peculiar whistle, whereupon four gentlemen who were waiting for him at the end of the Rue de Beauvais joined him. The whole party set out towards the middle of the city.
Ten o’clock struck.
“Well!” said Marguerite, after the King and Henry had left, “shall we go back to table?”
“Mercy, no!” cried the duchess, “I have been too badly frightened. Long live the little house in the Rue Cloche Percée! No one can enter that without regularly besieging it, and our good men have the right to use their swords there. But what are you looking for under the furniture and in the closets, Monsieur de Coconnas?”
“I am trying to find my friend La Mole,” said the Piedmontese.
“Look in my room, monsieur,” said Marguerite, “there is a certain closet”—
“Very well,” said Coconnas, “I will go there.”
He entered the room.
“Well!” said a voice from the darkness; “where are we?”
“Oh! by Heaven! we have reached the dessert.”
“And the King of Navarre?”
“He has seen nothing. He is a perfect husband, and I wish my wife had one like him. But I fear she never will, even if she marries again.”
“And King Charles?”
“Ah! the King. That is another thing. He has taken off the husband.”
“It is as I tell you. Furthermore, he honored me by looking askance at me when he discovered that I belonged to Monsieur d’Alençon, and cross when he found out that I was your friend.”
“You think, then, that he has heard me spoken of?”
“I fear that he has heard nothing very good of you. But that is not the point. I believe these ladies have a pilgrimage to make to the Rue de Roi de Sicile, and that we are to take them there.”
“Why, that is impossible! You know that very well.”
“We are on duty at his royal highness’s.”
“By Heavens, that is so; I always forget that we are ranked, and that from the gentlemen we once were we have had the honor to pass into valets.”
Thereupon the two friends went and told the queen and the duchess the necessity of their being present at least when Monsieur le Duc retired.
“Very well,” said Madame de Nevers, “we will go by ourselves.”
“Might we know where you are going?” asked Coconnas.
“Oh! you are too curious!” said the duchess. “Quære et invenies.”
The young men bowed and went at once to Monsieur d’Alençon.
The duke seemed to be waiting for them in his cabinet.
“Ah! ah!” said he, “you are very late, gentlemen.”
“It is scarcely ten o’clock, monseigneur,” said Coconnas.
The duke drew out his watch.
“That is true,” said he. “And yet every one has gone to sleep in the Louvre.”
“Yes, monsieur, but we are here at your orders. Must we admit into the chamber of your highness the gentlemen who are with the King until he retires?”
“On the contrary, go into the small reception-room and dismiss every one.”
The young men obeyed, carried out the order, which surprised no one, because of the well-known character of the duke, and returned to him.
“Monseigneur,” said Coconnas, “your highness will probably either go to bed or work, will you not?”
“No, gentlemen; you may have leave of absence until tomorrow.”
“Well, well,” whispered Coconnas into La Mole’s ear, “the court is going to stay up all night, apparently. It will be devilishly pleasant. Let us have our share of it.”
And both young men descended the stairs four steps at a time, took their cloaks and their night swords, and hastily left the Louvre after the two ladies, whom they overtook at the corner of the Rue du Coq Saint Honoré.
Meanwhile the Duc d’Alençon, with open eyes and ears, locked himself in his room to await the unexpected events he had been promised.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53