As the duke had said to the young men, the most profound silence reigned in the Louvre.
Marguerite and Madame de Nevers had departed for the Rue Tizon. Coconnas and La Mole had followed them. The King and Henry were knocking about the city. The Duc d’Alençon was in his room vaguely and anxiously waiting for the events which the queen mother had predicted. Catharine had gone to bed, and Madame de Sauve, seated by her, was reading some Italian stories which greatly amused the good queen. Catharine had not been in such good humor for a long time. Having done justice to a collation with her ladies in waiting, having consulted her physician and arranged the daily accounts of her household, she had ordered prayers for the success of a certain enterprise, which she said was of great importance to the happiness of her children. Under certain circumstances it was Catharine’s habit — a habit, for that matter, wholly Florentine — to have prayers and masses read the object of which was known only to God and herself.
Finally she had seen Réné, and had chosen several novelties from among her rich collection of perfumed bags.
“Let me know,” said Catharine, “if my daughter the Queen of Navarre is in her rooms; and if she is there, beg her to come to me.”
The page to whom this order was given withdrew, and an instant later he returned, accompanied by Gillonne.
“Well!” said the queen mother, “I asked for the mistress, not the servant.”
“Madame,” said Gillonne, “I thought I ought to come myself and tell your majesty that the Queen of Navarre has gone out with her friend the Duchesse de Nevers”—
“Gone out at this hour!” exclaimed Catharine, frowning; “where can she have gone?”
“To a lecture on chemistry,” replied Gillonne, “which is to be held in the Hôtel de Guise, in the pavilion occupied by Madame de Nevers.”
“When will she return?” asked the queen mother.
“The lecture will last until late into the night,” replied Gillonne, “so that probably her majesty will stay with her friend until tomorrow morning.”
“The Queen of Navarre is happy,” murmured Catharine; “she has friends and she is queen; she wears a crown, is called your majesty, yet has no subjects. She is happy indeed.”
After this remark, which made her listeners smile inwardly:
“Well,” murmured Catharine, “since she has gone out — for she has gone, you say?”
“Half an hour ago, madame.”
“Everything is for the best; you may go.”
Gillonne bowed and left.
“Go on with your reading, Charlotte,” said the queen.
Madame de Sauve continued. At the end of ten minutes Catharine interrupted the story.
“Ah, by the way,” said she, “have the guards dismissed from the corridor.”
This was the signal for which Maurevel was waiting. The order of the queen mother was carried out, and Madame de Sauve went on with her story. She had read for about a quarter of an hour without any interruption, when a prolonged and terrible scream reached the royal chamber and made the hair of those present stand on end.
The scream was followed by the sound of a pistol-shot.
“What is it?” said Catharine; “why do you stop reading, Carlotta?”
“Madame,” said the young woman, turning pale, “did you not hear?”
“What?” asked Catharine.
“And that pistol-shot?” added the captain of the guards.
“A cry, a pistol-shot?” asked Catharine; “I heard nothing. Besides, is a shout or a pistol-shot such a very unusual thing at the Louvre? Read, read, Carlotta.”
“But listen, madame,” said the latter, while Monsieur de Nancey stood up, his hand on his sword, but not daring to leave without permission from the queen, “listen, I hear steps, curses.”
“Shall I go and find out about it, madame?” said De Nancey.
“Not at all, monsieur, stay where you are,” said Catharine, raising herself on one hand to give more emphasis to her order. “Who, then, would protect me in case of an alarm? It is only some drunken Swiss fighting.”
The calmness of the queen, contrasted with the terror on the faces of all present, was so remarkable that, timid as she was, Madame de Sauve fixed a questioning glance on the queen.
“Why, madame, I should think they were killing some one.”
“Whom do you think they are killing?”
“The King of Navarre, madame; the noise comes from the direction of his apartments.”
“The fool!” murmured the queen, whose lips in spite of her self-control were beginning to move strangely, for she was muttering a prayer; “the fool sees her King of Navarre everywhere.”
“My God! my God!” cried Madame de Sauve, falling back in her chair.
“It is over, it is over,” said Catharine. “Captain,” she continued, turning to Monsieur de Nancey, “I hope if there is any scandal in the palace you will have the guilty ones severely punished tomorrow. Go on with your reading, Carlotta.” And Catharine sank back on her pillow with a calmness that greatly resembled weakness, for those present noticed great drops of perspiration rolling down her face.
Madame de Sauve obeyed this formal order, but her eyes and her voice were mere machines. Her thoughts wandered to other things which represented a terrible danger hanging over a loved head. Finally, after struggling on for several minutes, she became so oppressed between her feelings and etiquette that her words became unintelligible, the book fell from her hands, and she fainted.
Suddenly a louder noise was heard; a quick, heavy step fell on the corridor, two pistol-shots shook the windows; and Catharine, astonished at the interminable struggle, rose in terror, erect, pale, with dilating eyes. As the captain of the guard was about to hurry out, she stopped him, saying:
“Let every one remain here. I myself will go and see what is the matter.”
This is what was taking place, or rather what had taken place. That morning De Mouy had received the key of Henry’s room from the hands of Orthon. In this key, which was piped, he had noticed a roll of paper. He drew it out with a pin. It was the password of the Louvre for that night.
Besides, Orthon had verbally transmitted to him the words of Henry, asking De Mouy to come to the king at ten o’clock in the Louvre.
At half-past nine De Mouy put on a suit of armor, the strength of which he had already more than once had occasion to test; over this he buttoned a silk doublet, fastened on his sword, put his pistols in his belt, and over everything threw the red cloak of La Mole.
We have seen how, before going back to his rooms, Henry had thought best to pay a visit to Marguerite, and how he arrived by the secret stairway just in time to run against La Mole in Marguerite’s sleeping-room, and to appear in the dining-room before the King. It was at that very moment when, thanks to the password sent by Henry, and above all to the famous red cloak, that De Mouy passed under the gate of the Louvre.
The young man went directly to the apartments of the King of Navarre, imitating as well as he could, as was his habit, the gait of La Mole. He found Orthon waiting for him in the antechamber.
“Sire de Mouy,” said the mountaineer, “the king has gone out, but he told me to admit you, and to tell you to wait for him. If he should be late in returning, he wants you, you know, to lie down on his bed.”
De Mouy entered without asking for further explanation, for what Orthon had just told him was only the repetition of what he had already heard that morning. In order to pass away the time he took a pen and ink and, approaching a fine map of France which hung on the wall, he set to work to count and determine the stopping-places between Paris and Pau. But this was only the work of a quarter of an hour, and then De Mouy did not know what to do.
He made two or three rounds of the room, rubbed his eyes, yawned, sat down, got up, and sat down again. Finally, taking advantage of Henry’s invitation, and the familiarity which existed between princes and their gentlemen, he placed his pistols and the lamp on a table, stretched himself out on the great bed with the sombre hangings which furnished the rear of the room, laid his sword by his side, and, sure of not being surprised since a servant was in the adjoining room, he fell into a pleasant sleep, the noise of which soon made the vast canopy ring with its echoes. De Mouy snored like a regular old soldier, and in this he could have vied with the King of Navarre himself.
It was then that six men, their swords in their hands and their knives at their belts, glided silently into the corridor which communicated by a small door with the apartments of Catharine and by a large one with those of Henry.
One of the six men walked ahead of the others. Besides his bare sword and his dagger, which was as strong as a hunting-knife, he carried his faithful pistols fastened to his belt by silver hooks.
This man was Maurevel. Having reached Henry’s door, he stopped.
“Are you perfectly sure that the sentinels are not in the corridor?” he asked of the one who apparently commanded the little band.
“Not a single one is at his post,” replied the lieutenant.
“Very good,” said Maurevel. “Now there is nothing further except to find out one thing — that is, if the man we are looking for is in his room.”
“But,” said the lieutenant, arresting the hand which Maurevel had laid on the handle of the door, “but, captain, these apartments are those of the King of Navarre.”
“Who said they were not?” asked Maurevel.
The guards looked at one another in amazement, and the lieutenant stepped back.
“What!” exclaimed he, “arrest some one at this hour, in the Louvre, and in the apartments of the King of Navarre?”
“What should you say,” said Maurevel, “were I to tell you that the one you are about to arrest is the King of Navarre himself?”
“I should say, captain, that it is serious business and that without an order signed by King Charles IX.”—
“Read this,” said Maurevel.
And drawing from his doublet the order which Catharine had given him he handed it to the lieutenant.
“Very well,” replied the latter after he had read it. “I have nothing further to say.”
“And you are ready?”
“I am ready.”
“And you?” continued Maurevel, turning to the other five sbirros.
They all saluted respectfully.
“Listen to me, then, gentlemen,” said Maurevel; “this is my plan: two of you will remain at this door, two at the door of the sleeping-room, and two will go with me.”
“Afterwards?” said the lieutenant.
“Pay close attention to this: we are ordered to prevent the prisoner from calling out, shouting, or resisting. Any infraction of this order is to be punished by death.”
“Well, well, he has full permission,” said the lieutenant to the man chosen by him to follow Maurevel into the king’s room.
“Full,” said Maurevel.
“Poor devil of the King of Navarre!” said one of the men. “It was written above that he should not escape this.”
“And here too,” said Maurevel, taking Catharine’s order from the hands of the lieutenant and returning it to his breast.
Maurevel inserted the key Catharine had given him into the lock, and leaving two men at the outer door, as had been agreed on, he entered the antechamber with the four others.
“Ah! ah!” said Maurevel, hearing the noisy breathing of the sleeper, the sound of which reached even as far as that, “it seems that we shall find what we are looking for.”
Orthon, thinking it was his master returning, at once started up and found himself face to face with five armed men in the first chamber.
At sight of the sinister face of Maurevel, who was called the King’s Slayer, the faithful servant sprang back, and placing himself before the second door:
“Who are you?” said he, “and what do you want?”
“In the King’s name,” replied Maurevel, “where is your master?”
“Yes, the King of Navarre.”
“The King of Navarre is not in his room,” said Orthon, barring the door more than ever, “so you cannot enter.”
“Excuses, lies!” said Maurevel. “Come, stand back!”
The Béarnais people are stubborn; this one growled like one of his own mountain dogs, and far from being intimidated:
“You shall not enter,” said he; “the king is out.”
And he clung to the door.
Maurevel made a sign. The four men seized the stubborn servant, snatched him from the door-sill to which he was clinging, and as he started to open his mouth and cry out, Maurevel clapped a hand to his lips.
Orthon bit furiously at the assassin, who dropped his hand with a dull cry, and brought down the handle of his sword on the head of the servant. Orthon staggered and fell back, shouting, “Help! help! help!”
Then his voice died away. He had fainted.
The assassins stepped over his body, two stopped at the second door, and two entered the sleeping-room with Maurevel.
In the glow of the lamp burning on the night table they saw the bed.
The curtains were drawn.
“Oh! oh!” said the lieutenant, “he has stopped snoring, apparently.”
“Be quick!” cried Maurevel.
At this, a sharp cry, resembling the roar of a lion rather than a human voice, came from behind the curtains, which were violently thrown back, and a man appeared sitting there armed with a cuirass, his head covered with a helmet which reached to his eyes. Two pistols were in his hand, and his sword lay across his knees.
No sooner did Maurevel perceive this figure and recognize De Mouy than he felt his hair rise on end; he became frightfully pale, foam sprang to his lips, and he stepped back as if he had come face to face with a ghost. Suddenly the armed figure rose and stepped forward as Maurevel drew back, so that from the position of threatener, the latter now became the one threatened, and vice versa.
“Ah, scoundrel!” cried De Mouy, in a dull voice, “so you have come to murder me as you murdered my father!”
The two guards who had entered the room with Maurevel alone heard these terrible words. As they were uttered a pistol was placed to Maurevel’s forehead. The latter sank to his knees just as De Mouy put his hand on the trigger; the shot was fired and one of the guards who stood behind him and whom he had unmasked by this movement dropped to the floor, struck to the heart. At the same instant Maurevel fired back, but the ball glanced off De Mouy’s cuirass.
Then, measuring the distance, De Mouy sprang forward and with the edge of his broadsword split open the head of the second guard, and turning towards Maurevel crossed swords with him.
The struggle was brief but terrible. At the fourth pass Maurevel felt the cold steel in his throat. He uttered a stifled cry and fell backwards, upsetting the lamp, which went out in the fall.
At once De Mouy, strong and agile as one of Homer’s heroes, took advantage of the darkness and sprang, with head lowered, into the antechamber, knocked down one guard, pushed aside the other, and shot like an arrow between those at the outer door. He escaped two pistol-shots, the balls of which grazed the wall of the corridor, and from that moment was safe, for one loaded pistol still was left him, besides the sword which had dealt such terrible blows.
For an instant he hesitated, undecided whether to go to Monsieur d’Alençon’s, the door of whose room he thought had just opened, or to try and escape from the Louvre. He determined on the latter course, continued on his way, slow at first, jumped ten steps at a time, and reaching the gate uttered the two passwords and rushed on, shouting out:
“Go upstairs; there is murder going on by order of the King.”
Taking advantage of the amazement produced on the sentinel by his words and the sound of the pistol-shots, he ran on and disappeared in the Rue du Coq without having received a scratch.
It was at this moment that Catharine stopped the captain of the guards, saying:
“Stay here; I myself will go and see what is the matter.”
“But, madame,” replied the captain, “the danger your majesty runs compels me to follow you.”
“Stay here, monsieur,” said Catharine, in a still more imperious tone, “stay here. There is a more powerful protection around kings than the human sword.”
The captain remained where he was.
Taking a lamp, Catharine slipped her bare feet into a pair of velvet slippers, left her room, and reaching the corridor, still full of smoke, advanced as impassible and as cold as a shadow towards the apartments of the King of Navarre.
Silence reigned supreme.
Catharine reached the door, crossed the threshold, and first saw Orthon, who had fainted in the antechamber.
“Ah! ah!” said she, “here is the servant; further on we shall probably find the master.” She entered the second door.
Then her foot ran against a corpse; she lowered her lamp; it was the guard who had had his head split open. He was quite dead.
A few feet further on the lieutenant, who had been struck by a bullet, was drawing his last breath.
Finally, before the bed lay a man whose face was as pale as death and who was bleeding from a double wound in his throat. He was clinching his hands convulsively in his efforts to rise.
It was Maurevel.
Catharine shuddered. She saw the empty bed, she looked around the room seeking in vain for the body she hoped to find among the three corpses.
Maurevel recognized Catharine. His eyes were horribly dilated and he made a despairing gesture towards her.
“Well,” said she in a whisper, “where is he? what has happened? Unfortunate man! have you let him escape?”
Maurevel strove to speak, but an unintelligible sound came from his throat, a bloody foam covered his lips, and he shook his head in sign of inability and pain.
“Speak!” cried Catharine, “speak! if only one word!”
Maurevel pointed to his wound, again made several inarticulate gasps, which ended in a hoarse rattle, and fainted.
Catharine looked around her. She was surrounded by the bodies of dead and dying; blood flowed in every direction, and the silence of death hovered over everything.
Once again she spoke to Maurevel, but failed to rouse him; he was not only silent but motionless; a paper was in his doublet. It was the order of arrest signed by the King. Catharine seized it and hid it in her breast. Just then she heard a light step behind her, and turning, she saw the Duc d’Alençon at the door. In spite of himself he had been drawn thither by the noise, and the sight before him fascinated him.
“You here?” said she.
“Yes, madame. For God’s sake what has happened?”
“Go back to your room, François; you will know soon enough.”
D’Alençon was not as ignorant of the affair as Catharine supposed.
At the sound of the first steps in the corridor he had listened. Seeing some men enter the apartments of the King of Navarre, and by connecting this with some words Catharine had uttered, he had guessed what was about to take place, and was rejoiced at having so dangerous an enemy destroyed by a hand stronger than his own. Before long the noises of pistol-shots and the rapid steps of a man running had attracted his attention, and he had seen disappearing in the light space caused by the opening of the door leading to the stairway the red cloak too well known not to be recognized.
“De Mouy!” he cried, “De Mouy in the apartments of the King of Navarre! Why, that is impossible! Can it be Monsieur de la Mole?”
He grew alarmed. Remembering that the young man had been recommended to him by Marguerite herself, and wishing to make sure that it was he whom he had just seen, he ascended hurriedly to the chamber of the two young men. It was vacant. But in a corner he found the famous red cloak hanging against the wall. His suspicions were confirmed. It was not La Mole, but De Mouy. Pale and trembling lest the Huguenot should be discovered, and would betray the secrets of the conspiracy, he rushed to the gate of the Louvre. There he was told that the red cloak had escaped safe and sound, shouting out as he passed that some one was being murdered in the Louvre by order of the King.
“He is mistaken,” murmured D’Alençon; “it is by order of the queen mother.”
Returning to the scene of combat, he found Catharine wandering like a hyena among the dead.
At the order from his mother the young man returned to his rooms, affecting calmness and obedience, in spite of the tumultuous thoughts which were passing through his mind.
In despair at the failure of this new attempt, Catharine called the captain of the guards, had the bodies removed, gave orders that Maurevel, who was only wounded, be carried to his home, and told them not to waken the King.
“Oh!” she murmured, as she returned to her rooms, her head sunk on her bosom, “he has again escaped. The hand of God is over this man. He will reign! he will reign!”
Entering her room, she passed her hand across her brow, and assumed an ordinary smile.
“What was the matter, madame?” asked every one except Madame de Sauve, who was too frightened to ask any questions.
“Nothing,” replied Catharine; “a noise, that was all.”
“Oh!” cried Madame de Sauve, suddenly pointing to the floor, “your majesty says there is nothing the matter, and every one of your majesty’s steps leaves a trace of blood on the carpet!”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49