When Catharine thought that everything was over in the King of Navarre’s rooms, when the dead guards had been removed, when Maurevel had been carried to her apartments, and the carpet had been cleaned, she dismissed her women, for it was almost midnight, and strove to sleep. But the shock had been too violent, and the disappointment too keen.
That detested Henry, constantly escaping her snares, which were usually fatal, seemed protected by some invincible power which Catharine persisted in calling chance, although in her heart of hearts a voice told her that its true name was destiny. The thought that the report of the new attempt in spreading throughout the Louvre and beyond the Louvre would give a greater confidence than ever in the future to Henry and the Huguenots exasperated her, and at that moment had chance, against which she was so unfortunately struggling, delivered her enemy into her hands, surely with the little Florentine dagger she wore at her belt she could have thwarted that destiny so favorable to the King of Navarre.
The hours of the night, hours so long for one waiting and watching struck one after another without Catharine’s being able to close her eyes. A whole world of new plans unrolled in her visionary mind during those nocturnal hours. Finally at daybreak she rose, dressed herself, and went to the apartments of Charles IX.
The guards, who were accustomed to see her go to the King at all hours of the day and night, let her pass. She crossed the antechamber, therefore, and reached the armory. But there she found the nurse of Charles, who was awake.
“My son?” said the queen.
“Madame, he gave orders that no one was to be admitted to his room before eight o’clock.”
“This order was not for me, nurse.”
“It was for every one, madame.”
“Yes, I know very well,” said the nurse, “that no one has any right to oppose your majesty; I therefore beg you to listen to the prayer of a poor woman and to refrain from entering.”
“Nurse, I must speak to my son.”
“Madame, I will not open the door except on a formal order from your majesty.”
“Open, nurse,” said Catharine, “I order you to open!”
At this voice, more respected and much more feared in the Louvre than that of Charles himself, the nurse handed the key to Catharine, but the queen had no need of it. She drew from her pocket her own key of the room, and under its heavy pressure the door yielded.
The room was vacant, Charles’s bed was untouched, and his greyhound Actéon, asleep on the bear-skin that covered the step of the bed, rose and came forward to lick the ivory hands of Catharine.
“Ah!” said the queen, frowning, “he is out! I will wait for him.”
She seated herself, pensive and gloomy, at the window which overlooked the court of the Louvre, and from which the chief entrance was visible.
For two hours she sat there, as motionless and pale as a marble statue, when at length she perceived a troop of horsemen returning to the Louvre, at whose head she recognized Charles and Henry of Navarre.
Then she understood all. Instead of arguing with her in regard to the arrest of his brother-inlaw, Charles had taken him away and so had saved him.
“Blind, blind, blind!” she murmured. Then she waited. An instant later footsteps were heard in the adjoining room, which was the armory.
“But, sire,” Henry was saying, “now that we have returned to the Louvre, tell me why you took me away and what is the service you have rendered me.”
“No, no, Henriot,” replied Charles, laughing, “some day, perhaps, you will find out; but for the present it must remain a mystery. Know only that for the time being you have in all probability brought about a fierce quarrel between my mother and me.”
As he uttered these words, Charles raised the curtain and found himself face to face with Catharine.
Behind him and above his shoulder rose the pale, anxious countenance of the Béarnais.
“Ah! you here, madame?” said Charles IX., frowning.
“Yes, my son,” said Catharine, “I want to speak to you.”
“To you alone.”
“Well, well,” said Charles, turning to his brother-inlaw, “since there is no escape, the sooner the better.”
“I will leave you, sire,” said Henry.
“Yes, yes, leave us,” replied Charles; “and as you are a Catholic, Henriot, go and hear a mass for me while I stay for the sermon.”
Henry bowed and withdrew.
Charles IX. went directly to the point.
“Well, madame,” said he, trying to make a joke of the affair. “By Heaven! you are waiting to scold me, are you not? I wickedly upset your little plan. Well, the devil! I could not let the man who had just saved my life be arrested and taken to the Bastille. Nor did I want to quarrel with my mother. I am a good son. Moreover,” he added in a low tone, “the Lord punishes children who quarrel with their mothers. Witness my brother François II. Forgive me, therefore, frankly, and confess that the joke was a good one.”
“Sire,” said Catharine, “your Majesty is mistaken; it is not a joke.”
“Yes, yes! and you will end by looking at it in that way, or the devil take me!”
“Sire, by your blunder you have baffled a project which would have led to an important discovery.”
“Bah! a project. Are you embarrassed because of a baffled project, mother? You can make twenty others, and in those — well, I promise I will second you.”
“Now that you will second me it is too late, for he is warned and will be on his guard.”
“Well,” said the King, “let us come to the point. What have you against Henriot?”
“The fact that he conspires.”
“Yes, I know that this is your constant accusation; but does not every one conspire more or less in this charming royal household called the Louvre?”
“But he conspires more than any one, and he is much more dangerous than one imagines.”
“A regular Lorenzino!” said Charles.
“Listen,” said Catharine, becoming gloomy at mention of this name, which reminded her of one of the bloodiest catastrophes in the history of Florence. “Listen; there is a way of proving to me that I am wrong.”
“What way, mother?”
“Ask Henry who was in his room last night.”
“In his room last night?”
“Yes; and if he tells you”—
“Well, I shall be ready to admit that I have been mistaken.”
“But in case it was a woman, we cannot ask.”
“A woman who killed two of your guards and perhaps mortally wounded Monsieur de Maurevel!”
“Oh! oh!” said the King, “this is serious. Was there any bloodshed?”
“Three men were stretched on the floor.”
“And the one who reduced them to this state?”
“Escaped safe and sound.”
“By Gog and Magog!” exclaimed Charles, “he was a brave fellow, and you are right, mother, I must know him.”
“Well, I tell you in advance that you will not know him, at least not through Henry.”
“But through you, mother? The man did not escape without leaving some trace, without your noticing some part of his clothing.”
“Nothing was noticed except the very elegant red cloak which he wore.”
“Ah! ah! a red cloak!” cried Charles. “I know only one at court remarkable enough to attract attention.”
“Exactly,” said Catharine.
“Well?” demanded Charles.
“Well,” said Catharine, “wait for me in your rooms, my son, and I will go and see if my orders have been carried out.”
Catharine left, and Charles, alone, began walking up and down distractedly, whistling a hunting-song, one hand in his doublet, the other hanging down, which his dog licked every time he paused.
As to Henry he had left his brother-inlaw greatly disturbed, and instead of going along the main corridor he had taken the small private stairway, to which we have already referred more than once, and which led to the second story. Scarcely had he ascended four steps before he perceived a figure at the first landing. He stopped, raising his hand to his dagger. But he soon saw it was a woman, who took hold of his hand and said in a charming voice which he well knew:
“Thank God, sire, you are safe and sound. I was so afraid for you, but no doubt God heard my prayer.”
“What has happened?” said Henry.
“You will know when you reach your rooms. You need not worry over Orthon. I have seen to him.”
The young woman descended the stairs hastily, making Henry believe that she had met him by chance.
“That is strange,” said Henry to himself. “What is the matter? What has happened to Orthon?”
Unfortunately, the question was not heard by Madame de Sauve, for the latter had already disappeared.
Suddenly at the top of the stairs Henry perceived another figure, but this time it was that of a man.
“Hush!” said the man.
“Ah! is it you, François?”
“Do not call me by my name.”
“What has happened?”
“Return to your rooms and you will see, then slip into the corridor, look carefully around to make sure that no one is spying on you, and come to my apartments. The door will be ajar.”
He, too, disappeared down the stairs, like the phantoms in a theatre who glide through a trap door.
“Ventre saint gris!” murmured the Béarnais, “the puzzle continues; but since the answer is in my rooms, let us go thither and find it.”
However, it was not without emotion that Henry went on his way. He had the sensitiveness and the superstition of youth. Everything was clearly reflected on his mind, the surface of which was as smooth as a mirror, and what he had just heard foretold trouble.
He reached the door of his rooms and listened. Not a sound. Besides, since Charlotte had said to return to his apartments, it was evident that there was nothing for him to fear by doing so. He glanced hurriedly around the first room — it was vacant. Nothing showed that anything had occurred.
“Orthon is not here,” said he.
He passed on to the next room. There everything was explained.
In spite of the water which had been thrown on in bucketsful, great red spots covered the floor. A piece of furniture was broken, the bed curtains had been slashed by the sword, a Venetian mirror had been shattered by a bullet; and a bloody hand which had left its terrible imprint on the wall showed that this silent chamber had been the scene of a frightful struggle. Henry embraced all these details at a glance, and passing his hand across his forehead, now damp with perspiration, murmured:
“Ah, I know now the service the King has rendered me. They came here to assassinate me — and — ah! De Mouy! what have they done to De Mouy? The wretches! They may have killed him!”
And as anxious to learn the news as the Duc d’Alençon was to tell it, Henry threw a last mournful glance on the surrounding objects, hurried from the room, reached the corridor, made sure that it was vacant, and pushing open the half-closed door, which he carefully shut behind him, he hurried to the Duc d’Alençon’s.
The duke was waiting for him in the first room. Laying his finger on his lips, he hastily took Henry’s hand and drew him into a small round tower which was completely isolated, and which consequently was out of range of spies.
“Ah, brother,” said he, “what a horrible night!”
“What happened?” asked Henry.
“They tried to arrest you.”
“For what reason?”
“I do not know. Where were you?”
“The King took me into the city with him last night.”
“Then he knew about it,” said D’Alençon. “But since you were not in your rooms, who was?”
“Was some one there?” asked Henry as if he were ignorant of the fact.
“Yes, a man. When I had heard the noise, I ran to help you; but it was too late.”
“Was the man arrested?” asked Henry, anxiously.
“No, he escaped, after he had wounded Maurevel dangerously and killed two guards.”
“Ah! brave De Mouy!” cried Henry.
“It was De Mouy, then?” said D’Alençon, quickly.
Henry saw that he had made a mistake.
“I presume so,” said he, “for I had an appointment with him to discuss your escape, and to tell him that I had yielded all my rights to the throne of Navarre to you.”
“If that is known,” said D’Alençon, growing pale, “we are lost.”
“Yes, for Maurevel will speak.”
“Maurevel received a sword-thrust in his throat, and I found out from the surgeon who dressed the wound that it would be a week before he would utter a single word.”
“A week! That is more than enough for De Mouy to escape.”
“For that matter,” said D’Alençon, “it might have been some one besides Monsieur de Mouy.”
“You think so?” said Henry.
“Yes, the man disappeared very quickly, and nothing but his red cloak was seen.”
“And a red cloak,” said Henry, “is more apt to be worn by a courtier than by a soldier. I should never suspect De Mouy in a red cloak.”
“No, if any one were suspected,” said D’Alençon, “it would be more apt to be”—
“It would be more likely to be Monsieur de la Mole,” said Henry.
“Certainly, since I myself, who saw the man running away, thought so for an instant.”
“You thought so? Why, it must have been Monsieur de la Mole, then.”
“Does he know anything?” asked D’Alençon.
“Absolutely nothing; at least, nothing of importance.”
“Brother,” said the duke; “I really think now that it was he.”
“The devil!” said Henry; “if it was, that will trouble the queen greatly, for she is interested in him.”
“Interested, you say?” said D’Alençon in amazement.
“Yes. Do you not remember, François, that it was your sister who recommended him to you?”
“Yes,” said the duke, in a dull voice; “so I tried to be agreeable to him. The proof of this is that, fearing his red cloak might compromise him, I went up to his rooms and took the cloak away.”
“Oh! oh!” exclaimed Henry, “that was doubly prudent. And now I would not bet, but I would swear, that it was he.”
“Even in court?” asked François.
“Faith, yes,” replied Henry. “He probably came to bring me some message from Marguerite.”
“If I were sure of being upheld by your testimony,” said D’Alençon, “I would almost accuse him.”
“If you were to accuse him,” replied Henry, “you understand, brother, that I would not contradict you.”
“But the queen?” said D’Alençon.
“Ah, yes, the queen.”
“We must know what she would do.”
“I will undertake to find out.”
“Plague it, brother! she will do wrong to lie to us, for this affair will make a glorious reputation of bravery for the young man, and which, cannot have cost him dear either, for he probably bought it on credit. Furthermore, it is true that he is well able to pay back both interest and capital.”
“Well, what can you expect?” said Henry; “in this base world one has nothing for nothing!”
And bowing and smiling to D’Alençon, he cautiously thrust his head into the corridor, and making sure that no one had been listening, he hurried rapidly away, and disappeared down the private stairway which led to the apartments of Marguerite.
As far as she was concerned, the Queen of Navarre was no less anxious than her husband. The night’s expedition sent against her and the Duchesse de Nevers by the King, the Duc d’Anjou, the Duc de Guise, and Henry, whom she had recognized, troubled her greatly. In all probability there was nothing which could compromise her. The janitor unfastened from the gate by La Mole and Coconnas had promised to be silent. But four lords like those with whom two simple gentlemen, such as La Mole and Coconnas, had coped, would not have gone out of their way by chance, or without having had some reason for thus inconveniencing themselves. Marguerite had returned at daybreak, having passed the rest of the night with the Duchesse de Nevers. She had retired at once, but had been unable to sleep, and had started at the slightest sound.
In the midst of this anxiety she heard some one knocking at the secret door, and being informed that the visitor was Gillonne, she gave orders to have her admitted.
Henry waited at the outer door. Nothing in his appearance showed the wounded husband. His usual smile lay on his delicate lips, and not a muscle of his face betrayed the terrible anxiety through which he had just passed. He seemed to glance inquiringly at Marguerite to discover if she would allow him to talk with her alone. Marguerite understood her husband’s look, and signed to Gillonne to withdraw.
“Madame,” said Henry, “I know how deeply you are attached to your friends, and I fear I bring you bad news.”
“What is it, monsieur?” asked Marguerite.
“One of your dearest servants is at present greatly compromised.”
“The dear Count de la Mole.”
“Monsieur le Comte de la Mole compromised! And why?”
“Because of the affair of last night.”
In spite of her self-control Marguerite could not keep from blushing.
But she made an effort over herself.
“What affair?” she asked.
“What,” said Henry, “did you not hear all the noise which was made in the Louvre?”
“I congratulate you, madame,” said Henry, with charming simplicity. “This proves that you are a sound sleeper.”
“But what happened?”
“It seems that our good mother gave an order to Monsieur de Maurevel and six of his men to arrest me.”
“You, monsieur, you?”
“For what reason?”
“Ah, who can tell the reasons of a mind as subtle as that of your mother? I suspect the reasons, but I do not know them positively.”
“And you were not in your rooms?”
“No; I happened not to be. You have guessed rightly, madame, I was not. Last evening the King asked me to go out with him. But, although I was not in my rooms, some one else was.”
“It seems that it was the Count de la Mole.”
“The Count de la Mole!” exclaimed Marguerite, astonished.
“By Heavens! what a lively little fellow this man from the provinces is!” continued Henry. “Do you know that he wounded Maurevel and killed two guards?”
“Wounded Monsieur de Maurevel and killed two guards! — impossible!”
“What! You doubt his courage, madame?”
“No, but I say that Monsieur de la Mole could not have been in your rooms.”
“Why, because — because”— said Marguerite, embarrassed, “because he was elsewhere.”
“Ah! If he can prove an alibi,” said Henry, “that is different; he will tell where he was, and the matter will be settled.”
“Where was he?” said Marguerite, quickly.
“In all probability the day will not pass without his being arrested and questioned. But unfortunately as there are proofs”—
“Proofs! what proofs?”
“The man who made this desperate defence wore a red cloak.”
“But Monsieur de la Mole is not the only one who has a red cloak — I know another man who has one.”
“No doubt, and I too know one. But this is what will happen: if it was not Monsieur de la Mole who was in my rooms, it must have been the other man who wears a red cloak, like La Mole. Now, do you know who this other man is?”
“There lies the danger. You, as well as myself, madame, have seen it. Your emotion proves this. Let us now talk like two people who are discussing the most desirable thing in the world — a throne; a most precious gift — life. De Mouy arrested, we are ruined.”
“Yes, I understand that.”
“While Monsieur de la Mole compromises no one; at least you would not suppose him capable of inventing a story such as, for instance, that he was with some ladies — whom I know?”
“Monsieur,” said Marguerite, “if you fear only that, you may be easy. He will not say it.”
“What!” said Henry, “would he remain silent if death were to be the price of his silence?”
“He would remain silent, monsieur.”
“You are sure of this?”
“I am sure.”
“Then everything is for the best,” said Henry, rising.
“You are going, monsieur?” asked Marguerite, quickly.
“Oh, my God, yes. This is all I had to say to you.”
“And you are going”—
“To try and get out of the trouble we have been put to by this devil of a man in the red cloak.”
“Oh, my God! my God! the poor young man!” cried Marguerite, pitifully, wringing her hands.
“Really,” said Henry, as he went out, “this dear Monsieur de la Mole is a faithful servant.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53