Since his return to Paris, Henry of Anjou had not seen his mother Catharine alone, and, as every one knows, he was her favorite son.
This visit was not merely for the sake of etiquette, nor the carrying out of a painful ceremony, but the accomplishment of a very sweet duty for this son who, if he did not love his mother, was at least sure of being tenderly loved by her.
Catharine loved this son best either because of his bravery, his beauty — for besides the mother, there was the woman in Catharine — or because, according to some scandalous chronicles, Henry of Anjou reminded the Florentine of a certain happy epoch of secret love.
Catharine alone knew of the return of the Duc d’Anjou to Paris. Charles IX. would have been ignorant of it had not chance led him to the Hôtel de Condé just as his brother was leaving it. Charles had not expected him until the following day, and Henry of Anjou had hoped to conceal from him the two motives which had hastened his arrival by a day, namely, his visit to the beautiful Marie of Clèves, princess of Condé, and his conference with the Polish ambassadors.
It was this last reason, of the object of which Charles was uncertain, which the Duc d’Anjou had to explain to his mother. And the reader, ignorant on this point as was Henry of Navarre, will profit by the explanation.
When the Duc d’Anjou, so long expected, entered his mother’s rooms, Catharine, usually so cold and formal, and who since the departure of her favorite son had embraced with effusion no one but Coligny, who was to be assassinated the following day, opened her arms to the child of her love, and pressed him to her heart with a burst of maternal affection most surprising in a heart already long grown cold.
Then pushing him from her she gazed at him and again drew him into her arms.
“Ah, madame,” said he, “since Heaven grants me the privilege of embracing my mother in private, console me, for I am the most wretched man alive.”
“Oh, my God! my beloved child,” cried Catharine, “what has happened to you?”
“Nothing which you do not know, mother. I am in love. I am loved; but it is this very love which is the cause of my unhappiness.”
“Tell me about it, my son,” said Catharine.
“Well, mother — these ambassadors — this departure”—
“Yes,” said Catharine, “the ambassadors have arrived; the departure is near at hand.”
“It need not be near at hand, mother, but my brother hastens it. He detests me. I am in his way, and he wants to rid himself of me.”
“By giving you a throne, poor, unhappy crowned head!”
“Oh, no, mother,” said Henry in agony, “I do not wish to go away. I, a son of France, brought up in the refinement of polite society, near the best of mothers, loved by one of the dearest women in the world, must I go among snows, to the ends of the earth, to die by inches among those rough people who are intoxicated from morning until night, and who gauge the capacity of their king by that of a cask, according to what he can hold? No, mother, I do not want to go; I should die!”
“Come, Henry,” said Catharine, pressing her son’s hands, “come, is that the real reason?”
Henry’s eyes fell, as though even to his mother he did not dare to confess what was in his heart.
“Is there no other reason?” asked Catharine; “less romantic, but more rational, more political?”
“Mother, it is not my fault if this thought comes to me, and takes stronger hold of me, perhaps, than it should; but did not you yourself tell me that the horoscope of my brother Charles prophesied that he would die young?”
“Yes,” said Catharine, “but a horoscope may lie, my son. Indeed, I myself hope that all horoscopes are not true.”
“But his horoscope said this, did it not?”
“His horoscope spoke of a quarter of a century; but it did not say whether it referred to his life or his reign.”
“Well, mother, bring it about so that I can stay. My brother is almost twenty-four. In one year the question will be settled.”
Catharine pondered deeply.
“Yes,” said she; “it would certainly be better if it could be so arranged.”
“Oh, imagine my despair, mother,” cried Henry, “if I were to exchange the crown of France for that of Poland! My being tormented there with the idea that I might be reigning in the Louvre in the midst of this elegant and lettered court, near the best mother in the world, whose advice would spare me half my work and fatigue, who, accustomed to bearing, with my father, a portion of the burden of the State, would like to bear it with me too! Ah, mother, I should have been a great king!”
“There! there! dear child,” said Catharine, to whom this outlook had always been a very sweet hope, “there! do not despair. Have you thought of any way of arranging the matter?”
“Oh, yes, certainly, and that is why I came back two or three days before I was expected, letting my brother Charles suppose that it was on account of Madame de Condé. Then I have been with De Lasco, the chief ambassador. I became acquainted with him, and did all I could in that first interview to make him hate me. I hope I have succeeded.”
“Ah, my dear child,” said Catharine, “that is wrong. You must place the interest of France above your petty dislikes.”
“Mother, in case any accident happened to my brother, would it be to the interest of France for the Duc d’Alençon or the King of Navarre to reign?”
“Oh! the King of Navarre, never, never!” murmured Catharine, letting anxiety cover her face with that veil of care which spread over it every time this question arose.
“Faith,” continued Henry, “my brother D’Alençon is not worth much more, and is no fonder of you.”
“Well,” said Catharine, “what did Lasco say?”
“Even Lasco hesitated when I urged him to seek an audience. Oh, if he could write to Poland and annul this election!”
“Folly, my son, madness! What a Diet has consecrated is sacred.”
“But, mother, could not these Poles be prevailed on to accept my brother in my stead?”
“It would be difficult, if not impossible,” said Catharine.
“Never mind, try, make the attempt, speak to the King, mother. Ascribe everything to my love for Madame de Condé; say that I am mad over her, that I am losing my mind. He saw me coming out of the prince’s hôtel with De Guise, who did everything for me a friend could do.”
“Yes, in order to help the League. You do not see this, but I do.”
“Yes, mother, yes; but meanwhile I am making use of him. Should we not be glad when a man serves us while serving himself?”
“And what did the King say when he met you?”
“He apparently believed what I told him, that love alone had brought me back to Paris.”
“But did he ask you what you did the rest of the night?”
“Yes, mother; but I had supper at Nantouillet’s, where I made a frightful riot, so that the report of it might get abroad and deceive the King as to where I was.”
“Then he is ignorant of your visit to Lasco?”
“Good, so much the better. I will try to influence him in your favor, dear child. But you know no influence makes any impression on his coarse nature.”
“Oh, mother, mother, what happiness if I could stay! I would love you even more than I do now if that were possible!”
“If you stay you will be sent to war.”
“Oh, never mind! if only I do not have to leave France.”
“You will be killed.”
“Mother, one does not die from blows; one dies from grief, from meanness. But Charles will not let me remain; he hates me.”
“He is jealous of you, my beautiful conqueror, that is well known. Why are you so brave and so fortunate? Why, at scarcely twenty years of age, have you won battles like Alexander or Cæsar? But, in the meantime, do not let your wishes be known to any one; pretend to be resigned, pay your court to the King. To-day there is a private council to read and discuss the speeches which are to be made at the ceremony. Act like the King of Poland, and leave the rest to me. By the way, how about your expedition of last night?”
“It failed, mother. The gallant was warned and escaped by the window.”
“Well,” said Catharine, “some day I shall know who this evil genius is who upsets all my plans in this way. Meanwhile I suspect and — let him beware!”
“So, mother”— said the Duc d’Anjou.
“Let me manage this affair.”
She kissed Henry tenderly on his eyes and pushed him from the room.
Before long the princes of her household arrived at the rooms of the queen. Charles was in a good humor, for the cleverness of his sister Margot had pleased rather than vexed him. Moreover, he had nothing against La Mole, and he had waited for him somewhat eagerly in the corridor merely because it was a kind of hunt.
D’Alençon, on the contrary, was greatly preoccupied. The repulsion he had always felt for La Mole had turned into hate the instant he knew that La Mole was loved by his sister.
Marguerite possessed both a dreamy mind and a quick eye. She had to remember as well as to watch.
The Polish deputies had sent a copy of the speeches which they were to make.
Marguerite, to whom no more mention had been made of the affair of the previous evening than as if it had never occurred, read the speeches, and, except Charles, every one discussed what he would answer. Charles let Marguerite reply as she pleased. As far as D’Alençon was concerned he was very particular as to the choice of terms; but as to the discourse of Henry of Anjou he seemed determined to attack it, and made numerous corrections.
This council, without being in any way decisive, had greatly embittered the feelings of those present.
Henry of Anjou, who had to rewrite nearly all his discourse, withdrew to begin the task.
Marguerite, who had not heard of the King of Navarre since the injury he had given to her window-pane, returned to her rooms, hoping to find him there.
D’Alençon, who had read hesitation in the eyes of his brother of Anjou, and who had surprised a meaning glance between him and his mother, retired to ponder on what he regarded as a fresh plot. Charles was about to go to his workshop to finish a boar-spear he was making for himself when Catharine stopped him.
The King, who suspected that he was to meet some opposition to his will, paused and looked at his mother closely.
“Well,” he said, “what now?”
“A final word, sire, which we forgot, and yet it is of much importance: what day shall we decide on for the public reception?”
“Ah, that is true,” said the King, seating himself again. “Well, what day would suit you?”
“I thought,” replied Catharine, “from your Majesty’s silence and apparent forgetfulness, that there was some deep-laid plan.”
“No,” said Charles; “why so, mother?”
“Because,” added Catharine, very gently, “it seems to me, my son, that these Poles should not see us so eager after their crown.”
“On the contrary, mother,” said Charles, “it is they who are in haste. They have come from Varsovia by forced marches. Honor for honor, courtesy for courtesy.”
“Your Majesty may be right in one sense; I am not curious. So your idea is that the public reception should be held soon?”
“Faith, yes, mother; is this not your idea too?”
“You know that my ideas are only such as can further your glory. I will tell you, therefore, that by this haste I fear you will be accused of profiting very quickly by this opportunity to relieve the house of France of the burdens your brother imposes on it, but which he certainly returns in glory and devotion.”
“Mother,” said Charles, “on his departure from France I will endow my brother so richly that no one will ever dare to think what you fear may be said.”
“Well,” said Catharine, “I surrender, since you have such a ready reply to each of my objections. But to receive this warlike people, who judge of the power of the states by exterior signs, you must have a considerable array of troops, and I do not think there are enough yet assembled in the Isle de France.”
“Pardon me, mother. I have foreseen this event, and am prepared for it. I have recalled two battalions from Normandy and one from Guyenne; my company of archers arrived yesterday from Brittany; the light horse, scattered throughout Lorraine, will be in Paris in the course of the day; and while it is supposed that I have scarcely four regiments at my disposition, I have twenty thousand men ready to appear.”
“Ah, ah!” said Catharine, surprised. “In that case only one thing is lacking, but that can be procured.”
“What is that?”
“Money. I believe that you are not furnished with an over-supply.”
“On the contrary, madame, on the contrary,” said Charles IX., “I have fourteen hundred thousand crowns in the Bastille; my private estates have yielded me during the last few days eight hundred thousand crowns, which I have put in my cellar in the Louvre, and in case of need Nantouillet holds three hundred thousand crowns at my disposal.”
Catharine shivered. Until then she had known Charles to be violent and passionate, but never provident.
“Well,” said she, “your Majesty thinks of everything. That is fine; and provided the tailors, the embroiderers, and the jewellers make haste, your Majesty will be in a position to hold this audience within six weeks.”
“Six weeks!” exclaimed Charles. “Mother, the tailors, the embroiderers, and the jewellers have been at work ever since we heard of my brother’s nomination. As a matter of fact, everything could be ready today, but, at the latest, it will take only three or four days.”
“Oh!” murmured Catharine; “you are in greater haste than I supposed, my son.”
“Honor for honor, I told you.”
“Well, is it this honor done to the house of France which flatters you?”
“And is your chief desire to see a son of France on the throne of Poland?”
“Then it is the event, the fact, and not the man, which is of interest to you, and whoever reigns there”—
“No, no, mother, by Heaven! Let us keep to the point! The Poles have made a good choice. They are a skilful and strong people! A military people, a nation of soldiers, they choose a captain for their ruler. That is logical, plague it! D’Anjou is just the man for them. The hero of Jarnac and Montcontour fits them like a glove. Whom would you have me send them? D’Alençon? a coward! He would give them a fine idea of the Valois! — D’Alençon! He would run at the first bullet that whistled by his ears, while Henry of Anjou is a fighter. Yes! his sword always in his hand, he is ever pushing forward, on foot or horseback! — forward! thrust! overpower! kill! Ah! my brother of Anjou is a man, a valiant soldier, who will lead them to battle from morning until night, from one year’s end to the next. He is not a hard drinker, it is true; but he will kill in cold blood. That is all. This dear Henry will be in his element; there! quick! quick! to battle! Sound the trumpet and the drum! Long live the king! Long live the conqueror! Long live the general! He will be proclaimed imperator three times a year. That will be fine for the house of France, and for the honor of the Valois; he may be killed, but, by Heaven, it will be a glorious death!”
Catharine shuddered. Her eyes flashed fire.
“Say that you wish to send Henry of Anjou away from you,” she cried, “say that you do not love your brother!”
“Ah! ah! ah!” cried Charles, bursting into a nervous laugh, “you have guessed, have you, that I want to send him away? You have guessed that I do not love him? And when did you reach this conclusion? Come! Love my brother! Why should I love him? Ah! ah! ah! Do you want to make me laugh?”
As he spoke, his pale cheeks grew flushed with a feverish glow.
“Does he love me? Do you love me? Has any one, except my dogs, and Marie Touchet, and my nurse, ever loved me? No! I do not love my brother, I love only myself. Do you hear? And I shall not prevent my brother from doing as I do.”
“Sire,” said Catharine, growing excited on her part, “since you have opened your heart to me I must open mine to you. You are acting like a weak king, like an ill-advised monarch; you are sending away your second brother, the natural support of the throne, who is in every way worthy to succeed you if any accident happened, in which case your crown would be left in jeopardy. As you said, D’Alençon is young, incapable, weak, more than weak, cowardly! And the Béarnais rises up in the background, you understand?”
“Well, the devil!” exclaimed Charles, “what does it matter to me what happens when I am dead? The Béarnais rises behind my brother, you say! By Heaven! so much the better! I said that I loved no one — I was mistaken, I love Henriot. Yes, I love this good Henriot. He has a frank manner, a warm handshake, while I see nothing but false looks around me, and touch, only icy hands. He is incapable of treason towards me, I swear. Besides, I owe him amends, poor boy! His mother was poisoned by some members of my family, I am told. Moreover, I am well. But if I were to be taken ill, I would call him, I should want him to stay with me, I would take nothing except from him, and when I died I would make him King of France and of Navarre. And by Heaven! instead of laughing at my death as my brothers would do, he would weep, or at least he would pretend to weep.”
Had a thunderbolt fallen at Catharine’s feet she would have been less startled than at these words. She stood speechless, gazing at Charles with haggard eyes. Then at the end of a few moments:
“Henry of Navarre!” she cried, “Henry of Navarre King of France to the detriment of my children! Ah! Holy Virgin! we shall see! So this is why you wish to send away my son?”
“Your son — and what am I, then? the son of a wolf, like Romulus?” cried Charles, trembling with anger, his eyes shining as though they were on fire. “Your son, you are right; the King of France is not your son, the King of France has no brothers, the King of France has no mother, the King of France has only subjects. The King of France has no need of feelings, he has wishes. He can get on without being loved, but he shall be obeyed.”
“Sire, you have misunderstood my words. I called my son the one who was going to leave me. I love him better just now because just now he is the one I am most afraid I shall lose. Is it a crime for a mother to wish that her child should not leave her?”
“And I, I tell you that he shall leave you. I tell you that he shall leave France, that he shall go to Poland, and within two days, too, and if you add one word he shall go tomorrow. Moreover, if you do not smooth your brow, if you do not take that threatening look from your eyes, I will strangle him this evening, as yesterday you yourself would have strangled your daughter’s lover. Only I shall not fail, as we failed in regard to La Mole.”
At the first threat Catharine’s head fell; but she raised it again almost immediately.
“Ah, poor child!” said she, “your brother would kill you. But do not fear, your mother will protect you.”
“Ah, you defy me!” cried Charles. “Well! by the blood of Christ, he shall die, not this evening, not soon, but this very instant. Ah, a weapon! a dagger! a knife! Ah!”
Having looked around in vain for what he wanted, Charles perceived the little dagger his mother always wore at her belt, sprang toward it, snatched it from its shagreen case encrusted with silver, and rushed from the room to strike down Henry of Anjou wherever he might meet him. But on reaching the hall, his strength, excited beyond human endurance, suddenly left him. He put out his arm, dropped the sharp weapon, which stuck point downwards into the wood, uttered a piercing cry, sank down, and rolled over on the floor.
At the same instant a quantity of blood spurted forth from his mouth and nose.
“Jesus!” said he. “They kill me! Help! help!”
Catharine, who had followed, saw him fall. For one instant she stood motionless, watching him. Then recollecting herself, not because of any maternal affection, but because of the awkwardness of the situation, she called out:
“The King is ill! Help! help!”
At the cry a crowd of servants, officers, and courtiers gathered around the young King. But ahead of them all a woman rushed out, pushed aside the others, and raised Charles, who had grown as pale as death.
“They kill me, nurse, they kill me,” murmured the King, covered with perspiration and blood.
“They kill you, my Charles?” cried the good woman, glancing at the group of faces with a look which reached even Catharine. “Who kills you?”
Charles heaved a feeble sigh, and fainted.
“Ah!” said the physician, Ambroise Paré, who was summoned at once, “ah! the King is very ill!”
“Now, from necessity or compulsion,” said the implacable Catharine to herself, “he will have to grant a delay.”
Whereupon she left the King to join her second son, who was in the oratory, anxiously waiting to hear the result of an interview which was of such importance to him.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53