Henry took advantage of the respite afforded him by his well-sustained examination to go to Madame de Sauve’s. He found Orthon completely recovered from his fainting-fit. But Orthon could tell him nothing, except that some men had broken into the king’s rooms, that the leader had struck him with the handle of his sword, and that the blow had stunned him. No one had troubled about Orthon. Catharine had seen that he had fainted and had believed him to be dead.
As he had come to himself between the departure of the queen mother and the arrival of the captain of the guards charged with clearing up the room, he had taken refuge in Madame de Sauve’s apartments.
Henry begged Charlotte to keep the young man until news came from De Mouy, who would not fail to write him from his hiding-place. Then he would send Orthon to carry his answer to De Mouy, and instead of one devoted man he could count on two. This decided on, he returned to his rooms and began further to consider matters, walking up and down the while. Suddenly the door opened and the King appeared.
“Your Majesty!” cried Henry, rising to meet him.
“In person. Really, Henriot, you are a good fellow, and I love you more and more.”
“Sire,” said Henry, “your Majesty overwhelms me.”
“You have but one fault, Henriot.”
“What is that? The one for which your Majesty has already reproached me several times?” said Henry. “My preferring to hunt animals rather than birds?”
“No, no, I am not referring to that, Henriot, I mean something else.”
“If your Majesty will explain,” said Henry, who saw from the smile on Charles’s lips that the King was in a good humor, “I will try and correct it.”
“It is this, that having such good eyes, you see no better than you do.”
“Bah!” said Henry, “can I be short-sighted, then, sire, without knowing it?”
“Worse than that, Henry, worse than that, you are blind.”
“Ah, indeed,” said the Béarnais, “but is it not when I shut my eyes that this happens?”
“Well, yes!” said Charles, “you are perfectly capable of that. At all events, I am going to open your eyes.”
“God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. Your Majesty is the representative of God on earth. Therefore you can do here what God does in heaven. Proceed; I am all attention.”
“When De Guise said last night that your wife had just passed escorted by a gallant you would not believe it.”
“Sire,” said Henry, “how could I believe that the sister of your Majesty could commit an act of such imprudence?”
“When he told you that your wife had gone to the Rue Cloche Percée, you would not believe that either!”
“How was I to suppose, sire, that a daughter of France would thus publicly risk her reputation?”
“When we besieged the house in the Rue Cloche Percée, and when I had a silver bowl hurled at my shoulder, D’Anjou some orange marmalade on his head, and De Guise a haunch of venison in the face, you saw two women and two men, did you not?”
“I saw nothing, sire. Does not your Majesty remember that I was questioning the janitor?”
“Yes, but, by Heaven, I saw”—
“Ah, if your Majesty saw anything, that is a different thing.”
“I saw two men and two women. Well, I know now beyond a doubt that one of the women was Margot, and that one of the men was Monsieur de la Mole.”
“Well,” said Henry, “if Monsieur de la Mole was in the Rue Cloche Percée, he was not here.”
“No,” said Charles, “he was not here. But never mind who was here; we shall know this as soon as that imbecile of a Maurevel is able to speak or write. The point is that Margot is deceiving you.”
“Bah!” said Henry; “do not believe such nonsense.”
“When I tell you that you are more than near-sighted, that you are blind, the devil! will you believe me just once, stupid? I tell you that Margot is deceiving you, and that this evening we are going to strangle her lover.”
Henry gave a start of surprise, and looked at his brother-inlaw in amazement.
“Confess, Henry, that at heart you are not sorry. Margot will cry out like a thousand Niobes; but, faith! so much the worse. I do not want you to be made a fool of. If Condé is deceived by the Duc d’Anjou, I will wink; Condé is my enemy. But you are my brother; more than this, you are my friend.”
“And I do not want you to be annoyed, and made a fool of. You have been a quintain long enough for all these popinjays who come from the provinces to gather our crumbs, and court our women. Let them come, or rather let them come again. By Heaven! you have been deceived, Henriot — that might happen to any one — but I swear, you shall have shining satisfaction, and tomorrow they shall say: In the name of a thousand devils! it seems that King Charles loves his brother Henriot, for last night he had Monsieur de la Mole’s tongue pulled out in a most amusing manner.”
“Is this really decided on, sire?” asked Henry.
“Decided on, determined on, arranged. The coxcomb will have no time to plead his cause. The expedition will consist of myself, D’Anjou, D’Alençon, and De Guise — a king, two sons of France, and a sovereign prince, without counting you.”
“How without counting me?”
“Why, you are to be one of us.”
“Yes, you! you shall stab the fellow in a royal manner, while the rest of us strangle him.”
“Sire,” said Henry, “your kindness overpowers me; but how do you know”—
“Why, the devil! it seems that the fellow boasts of it. He goes sometimes to your wife’s apartments in the Louvre, sometimes to the Rue Cloche Percée. They compose verses together. I should like to see the stanzas that fop writes. Pastorales they are. They discuss Bion and Moschus, and read first Daphne and then Corydon. Ah! take a good dagger with you!”
“Sire,” said Henry, “upon reflection”—
“Your Majesty will see that I cannot join such an expedition. It seems to me it would be inconvenient to be there in person. I am too much interested in the affair to take any calm part in it. Your Majesty will avenge the honor of your sister on a coxcomb who boasts of having calumniated my wife; nothing is simpler, and Marguerite, whom I hold to be innocent, sire, is in no way dishonored. But were I of the party, it would be a different thing. My cooperation would convert an act of justice into an act of revenge. It would no longer be an execution, but an assassination. My wife would no longer be calumniated, but guilty.”
“By Heaven, Henry, as I said just now to my mother, you speak words of wisdom. You have a devilishly quick mind.”
And Charles gazed complacently at his brother-inlaw, who bowed in return for the compliment.
“Nevertheless,” added Charles, “you are willing to be rid of this coxcomb, are you not?”
“Everything your Majesty does is well done,” replied the King of Navarre.
“Well, well, let me do your work for you. You may be sure it shall not be the worse for it.”
“I leave it to you, sire,” said Henry.
“At what time does he usually go to your wife’s room?”
“About nine o’clock.”
“And he leaves?”
“Before I reach there, for I never see him.”
“Very well. Come this evening at midnight. The deed will be done.”
Charles pressed Henry’s hand cordially, and renewing his vows of friendship, left the apartment, whistling his favorite hunting-song.
“Ventre saint gris!” said the Béarnais, watching Charles, “either I am greatly mistaken, or the queen mother is responsible for all this deviltry. Truly, she does nothing but invent plots to make trouble between my wife and myself. Such a pleasant household!”
And Henry began to laugh as he was in the habit of laughing when no one could see or hear him.
About seven o’clock that evening a handsome young man, who had just taken a bath, was finishing his toilet as he calmly moved about his room, humming a little air, before a mirror in one of the rooms of the Louvre. Near him another young man was sleeping, or rather lying on a bed.
The one was our friend La Mole who, unconsciously, had been the object of so much discussion all day; the other was his companion Coconnas.
The great storm had passed over him without his having heard the rumble of the thunder or seen the lightning. He had returned at three o’clock in the morning, had stayed in bed until three in the afternoon, half asleep, half awake, building castles on that uncertain sand called the future. Then he had risen, had spent an hour at a fashionable bath, had dined at Maître La Hurière’s, and returning to the Louvre had set himself to finish his toilet before making his usual call on the queen.
“And you say you have dined?” asked Coconnas, yawning.
“Faith, yes, and I was hungry too.”
“Why did you not take me with you, selfish man?”
“Faith, you were sleeping so soundly that I did not like to waken you. But you shall sup with me instead. Be sure not to forget to ask Maître La Hurière for some of that light wine from Anjou, which arrived a few days ago.”
“Is it good?”
“I merely tell you to ask for it.”
“Where are you going?”
“Where am I going?” said La Mole, surprised that his friend should ask him such a question; “I am going to pay my respects to the queen.”
“Well,” said Coconnas, “if I were going to dine in our little house in the Rue Cloche Percée, I should have what was left over from yesterday. There is a certain wine of Alicante which is most refreshing.”
“It would be imprudent to go there, Annibal, my friend, after what occurred last night. Besides, did we not promise that we would not go back there alone? Hand me my cloak.”
“That is so,” said Coconnas, “I had forgotten. But where the devil is your cloak? Ah! here it is.”
“No, you have given me the black one, and it is the red one I want. The queen likes me better in that.”
“Ah, faith,” said Coconnas, searching everywhere, “look for yourself, I cannot find it.”
“What!” said La Mole, “you cannot find it? Why, where can it be?”
“You probably sold it.”
“Why, I have six crowns left.”
“Well, take mine.”
“Ah, yes — a yellow cloak with a green doublet! I should look like a popinjay!”
“Faith, you are over-particular, so wear what you please.”
Having tossed everything topsy-turvy in his search, La Mole was beginning to abuse the thieves who managed to enter even the Louvre, when a page from the Duc d’Alençon appeared bringing the precious cloak in question.
“Ah!” cried La Mole, “here it is at last!”
“Is this your cloak, monsieur?” said the page. “Yes; monseigneur sent for it to decide a wager he made regarding its color.”
“Oh!” said La Mole, “I asked for it only because I was going out, but if his highness desires to keep it longer”—
“No, Monsieur le Comte, he is through with it.”
The page left. La Mole fastened his cloak.
“Well,” he went on, “what have you decided to do?”
“I do not know.”
“Shall I find you here this evening?”
“How can I tell?”
“Do you not know what you are going to do for two hours?”
“I know well enough what I shall do, but I do not know what I may be ordered to do.”
“By the Duchesse de Nevers?”
“No, by the Duc d’Alençon.”
“As a matter of fact,” said La Mole, “I have noticed for some time that he has been friendly to you.”
“Yes,” said Coconnas.
“Then your fortune is made,” said La Mole, laughing.
“Poof!” said Coconnas. “He is only a younger brother!”
“Oh!” said La Mole, “he is so anxious to become the elder one that perhaps Heaven will work some miracle in his favor.”
“So you do not know where you will be this evening?”
“Go to the devil, then — I mean good-by!”
“That La Mole is a terrible fellow,” thought Coconnas, “always wanting me to tell him where I am going to be! as if I knew. Besides, I believe I am sleepy.” And he threw himself on the bed again.
La Mole betook himself to the apartments of the queen. In the corridor he met the Duc d’Alençon.
“Ah! you here, Monsieur la Mole?” said the prince.
“Yes, my lord,” replied La Mole, bowing respectfully.
“Are you going away from the Louvre?”
“No, your highness. I am on my way to pay my respects to her Majesty the Queen of Navarre.”
“About what time shall you leave, Monsieur de la Mole?”
“Has monseigneur any orders for me?”
“No, not at present, but I shall want to speak to you this evening.”
“About what time?”
“Between nine and ten.”
“I shall do myself the honor of waiting on your highness at that time.”
“Very good. I shall depend on you.”
La Mole bowed and went on.
“There are times,” said he, “when the duke is as pale as death. It is very strange.”
He knocked at the door of the queen’s apartments. Gillonne, who apparently was expecting him, led him to Marguerite.
The latter was occupied with some work which seemed to be wearying her greatly. A paper covered with notes and a volume of Isocrates lay before her. She signed to La Mole to let her finish a paragraph. Then, in a few moments, she threw down her pen and invited the young man to sit beside her. La Mole was radiant. Never had he been so handsome or so light-hearted.
“Greek!” said he, glancing at the book. “A speech of Isocrates! What are you doing with that? Ah! and Latin on this sheet of paper! Ad Sarmatiæ legatos reginæ Margaritæ concio! So you are going to harangue these barbarians in Latin?”
“I must,” said Marguerite, “since they do not speak French.”
“But how can you write the answer before you have the speech?”
“A greater coquette than I would make you believe that this was impromptu; but I cannot deceive you, my Hyacinthe: I was told the speech in advance, and I am answering it.”
“Are these ambassadors about to arrive?”
“Better still, they arrived this morning.”
“Does any one know it?”
“They came incognito. Their formal arrival is planned for tomorrow afternoon, I believe, and you will see,” said Marguerite, with a little satisfied air not wholly free from pedantry, “that what I have done this evening is quite Ciceronian. But let us drop these important matters and speak of what has happened to you.”
“What has happened to me?”
“Ah! it is in vain you pretend to be brave, you look pale.”
“Then it is from having slept too much. I am humbly sorry for it.”
“Come, come, let us not play the braggart; I know everything.”
“Have the kindness to inform me, then, my pearl, for I know nothing.”
“Well, answer me frankly. What did the queen mother ask you?”
“Had she something to say to me?”
“What! Have you not seen her?”
“Nor King Charles?”
“Nor the King of Navarre?”
“But you have seen the Duc d’Alençon?”
“Yes, I met him just now in the corridor.”
“What did he say to you?”
“That he had some orders to give me between nine and ten o’clock this evening.”
“That is strange.”
“But what is strange? Tell me.”
“That nothing has been said to you.”
“What has happened?”
“All day, unfortunately, you have been hanging over an abyss.”
“Well, listen. It seems that last night De Mouy was surprised in the apartments of the King of Navarre, who was to have been arrested. De Mouy killed three men, and escaped without anything about him having been recognized except the famous red cloak.”
“Well, this red cloak, which once deceived me, has thrown others besides myself off the track. You have been suspected and even accused of this triple murder. This morning they wanted to arrest, judge, and perhaps convict you. Who knows? For in order to save yourself you would not have told where you were, would you?”
“Tell where I was?” cried La Mole; “compromise you, my beautiful queen? Oh! you are right. I should have died singing, to spare your sweet eyes one tear.”
“Alas!” said Marguerite, “my sweet eyes would have been filled with many, many tears.”
“But what caused the great storm to subside?”
“How can I tell?”
“There was only one way to prove that you were not in the king’s room.”
“And that was”—
“To tell where you were.”
“Well, I told.”
“Whom did you tell?”
“And Queen Catharine”—
“Queen Catharine knows that I love you.”
“Oh, madame! after having done so much for me, you can demand anything from your servant. Ah, Marguerite, truly, what you did was noble and beautiful. My life is yours, Marguerite.”
“I hope so, for I have snatched it from those who wanted to take it from me. But now you are saved.”
“And by you!” cried the young man; “by my adored queen!”
At that instant a sharp noise made them start. La Mole sprang back, filled with a vague terror. Marguerite uttered a cry, and stood with her eyes riveted on the broken glass of one of the window-panes.
Through this window a stone the size of an egg had entered and lay on the floor.
La Mole saw the broken pane, and realized the cause of the noise.
“Who dared to do this?” he cried, springing to the window.
“One moment,” said Marguerite. “It seems to me that something is tied around the stone.”
“Yes,” said La Mole, “it looks like a piece of paper.”
Marguerite went to the strange projectile and removed the thin sheet which, folded like a narrow band, encircled the middle of the stone.
The paper was attached to a cord, which came through the broken window.
Marguerite unfolded the letter and read.
“Unfortunate man!” she cried, holding out the paper to La Mole, who stood as pale and motionless as a statue of Terror.
With a heart filled with gloomy forebodings he read these words:
“They are waiting for Monsieur de la Mole, with long swords, in the corridor leading to the apartments of Monsieur d’Alençon. Perhaps he would prefer to escape by this window and join Monsieur de Mouy at Mantes”—
“Well!” asked La Mole, after reading it, “are these swords longer than mine?”
“No, but there may be ten against one.”
“Who is the friend who has sent us this note?” asked La Mole.
Marguerite took it from the young man’s hand and looked at it attentively.
“The King of Navarre’s handwriting!” she cried. “If he warns us, the danger is great. Flee, La Mole, flee, I beg you.”
“How?” asked La Mole.
“By this window. Does not the note refer to it?”
“Command, my queen, and I will leap from the window to obey you, if I broke my head twenty times by the fall.”
“Wait, wait,” said Marguerite. “It seems to me that there is a weight attached to this cord.”
“Let us see,” said La Mole.
Both drew up the cord, and with indescribable joy saw a ladder of hair and silk at the end of it.
“Ah! you are saved,” cried Marguerite.
“It is a miracle of heaven!”
“No, it is a gift from the King of Navarre.”
“But suppose it were a snare?” said La Mole. “If this ladder were to break under me? Madame, did you not acknowledge your love for me today?”
Marguerite, whose joy had dissipated her grief, became ashy pale.
“You are right,” said she, “that is possible.”
She started to the door.
“What are you going to do?” cried La Mole.
“To find out if they are really waiting for you in the corridor.”
“Never! never! For their anger to fall on you?”
“What can they do to a daughter of France? As a woman and a royal princess I am doubly inviolable.”
The queen uttered these words with so much dignity that La Mole understood she ran no risk, and that he must let her do as she wished.
Marguerite put La Mole under the protection of Gillonne, leaving to him to decide, according to circumstances, whether to run or await her return, and started down the corridor. A side hall led to the library as well as to several reception-rooms, and at the end led to the apartments of the King, the queen mother, and to the small private stairway by which one reached the apartments of the Duc d’Alençon and Henry. Although it was scarcely nine o’clock, all the lights were extinguished, and the corridor, except for the dim glimmer which came from the side hall, was quite dark. The Queen of Navarre advanced boldly. When she had gone about a third of the distance she heard whispering which sounded mysterious and startling from an evident effort made to suppress it. It ceased almost instantly, as if by order from some superior, and silence was restored. The light, dim as it was, seemed to grow less. Marguerite walked on directly into the face of the danger if danger there was. To all appearances she was calm, although her clinched hands indicated a violent nervous tension. As she approached, the intense silence increased, while a shadow like that of a hand obscured the wavering and uncertain light.
At the point where the transverse hall crossed the main corridor a man sprang in front of the queen, uncovered a red candlestick, and cried out:
“Here he is!”
Marguerite stood face to face with her brother Charles. Behind him, a silken cord in hand, was the Duc d’Alençon. At the rear, in the darkness, stood two figures side by side, reflecting no light other than that of the drawn swords which they held in their hands. Marguerite saw everything at a glance. Making a supreme effort, she said smilingly to Charles:
“You mean, here she is, sire!”
Charles recoiled. The others stood motionless.
“You, Margot!” said he. “Where are you going at this hour?”
“At this hour!” said Marguerite. “Is it so late?”
“I ask where you are going?”
“To find a book of Cicero’s speeches, which I think I left at our mother’s.”
“Without a light?”
“I supposed the corridor was lighted.”
“Do you come from your own apartments?”
“What are you doing this evening?”
“Preparing my address for the Polish ambassadors. Is there not a council tomorrow? and does not each one have to submit his address to your Majesty?”
“Have you not some one helping you with this work?”
Marguerite summoned all her strength.
“Yes, brother,” said she, “Monsieur de la Mole. He is very learned.”
“So much so,” said the Duc d’Alençon, “that I asked him when he had finished with you, sister, to come and help me, for I am not as clever as you are.”
“And were you waiting for him?” asked Marguerite as naturally as possible.
“Yes,” said D’Alençon, impatiently.
“Then,” said Marguerite, “I will send him to you, brother, for we have finished my work.”
“But your book?” said Charles.
“I will have Gillonne get it.”
The two brothers exchanged a sign.
“Go,” said Charles, “and we will continue our round.”
“Your round!” said Marguerite; “whom are you looking for?”
“The little red man,” said Charles. “Do you not know that there is a little red man who is said to haunt the old Louvre? My brother D’Alençon claims to have seen him, and we are looking for him.”
“Good luck to you,” said Marguerite, and she turned round. Glancing behind her, she saw the four figures gather close to the wall as if in conference. In an instant she had reached her own door.
“Open, Gillonne,” said she, “open.”
Marguerite sprang into the room and found La Mole waiting for her, calm and quiet, but with drawn sword.
“Flee,” said she, “flee. Do not lose a second. They are waiting for you in the corridor to kill you.”
“You command me to do this?” said La Mole.
“I command it. We must part in order to see each other again.”
While Marguerite had been away La Mole had made sure of the ladder at the window. He now stepped out, but before placing his foot on the first round he tenderly kissed the queen’s hand.
“If the ladder is a trap and I should perish, Marguerite, remember your promise.”
“It was not a promise, La Mole, but an oath. Fear nothing. Adieu!”
And La Mole, thus encouraged, let himself slip down the ladder. At the same instant there was a knock at the door.
Marguerite watched La Mole’s perilous descent and did not turn away from the window until she was sure he had reached the ground in safety.
“Madame,” said Gillonne, “madame!”
“Well?” asked Marguerite.
“The King is knocking at the door.”
Gillonne did so.
The four princes, impatient at waiting, no doubt, stood on the threshold.
Marguerite came forward, a smile on her lips.
The King cast a rapid glance around.
“Whom are you looking for, brother?” asked Marguerite.
“Why,” said Charles, “I am looking — I am looking — why, the devil! I am looking for Monsieur de la Mole.”
“Monsieur de la Mole!”
“Yes; where is he?”
Marguerite took her brother by the hand and led him to the window.
Just then two horsemen were seen galloping away, around the wooden tower. One of them unfastened his white satin scarf and waved it in the darkness, as a sign of adieu. The two men were La Mole and Orthon.
Marguerite pointed them out to Charles.
“Well!” said the King, “what does this mean?”
“It means,” replied Marguerite, “that Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon may put his cord back into his pocket, and that Messieurs d’Anjou and de Guise may sheathe their swords, for Monsieur de la Mole will not pass through the corridor again to-night.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53