Henry of Anjou having departed, peace and happiness seemed to have returned to the Louvre, among this family of the Atrides.
Charles, forgetting his melancholy, recovered his vigorous health, hunting with Henry, and on days when this was not possible discussing hunting affairs with him, and reproaching him for only one thing, his indifference to hawking, declaring that he would be faultless if he knew how to snare falcons, gerfalcons, and hawks as well as he knew how to hunt brocks and hounds.
Catharine had become a good mother again. Gentle to Charles and D’Alençon, affectionate to Henry and Marguerite, gracious to Madame de Nevers and Madame de Sauve; and under the pretext that it was in obedience to an order from her that he had been wounded, she carried her amiabilities so far as to visit Maurevel twice during his convalescence, in his house in the Rue de la Cerisaie.
Marguerite continued to carry on her love affair after the Spanish fashion.
Every evening she opened her window and by gestures and notes kept up her correspondence with La Mole, while in each of his letters the young man reminded his lovely queen of her promise of a few moments in the Rue Cloche Percée as a reward for his exile.
Only one person was lonely and unhappy in the now calm and peaceful Louvre.
This was our friend Count Annibal de Coconnas.
It was certainly something to know that La Mole was alive; it was much to be the favorite of Madame de Nevers, the most charming and the most whimsical of women. But all the pleasure of a meeting granted him by the beautiful duchess, all the consolation offered by Marguerite as to the fate of their common friend, did not compensate in the eyes of the Piedmontese for one hour spent with La Mole at their friend La Hurière’s before a bottle of light wine, or for one of those midnight rambles through that part of Paris in which an honest man ran the risk of receiving rents in his flesh, his purse, or his clothes.
To the shame of humanity it must be said that Madame de Nevers bore with impatience her rivalry with La Mole.
It was not that she hated the Provincial; on the contrary, carried away by the irresistible instinct which, in spite of herself, makes every woman a coquette with another woman’s lover, especially when that woman is her friend, she had not spared La Mole the flashes of her emerald eyes, and Coconnas might have envied the frank handclasps and the amiable acts done by the duchess in favor of his friend during those days in which the star of the Piedmontese seemed growing dim in the sky of his beautiful mistress; but Coconnas, who would have strangled fifteen persons for a single glance from his lady, was so little jealous of La Mole that he had often after some indiscretions of the duchess whispered certain offers which had made the man from the Provinces blush.
At this stage of affairs it happened that Henriette, who by the absence of La Mole was deprived of all the enjoyment she had had from the company of Coconnas, that is, his never-ending flow of spirits and fun, came to Marguerite one day to beg her to do her this three-fold favor without which the heart and the mind of Coconnas seemed to be slipping away day by day.
Marguerite, always sympathetic and, besides, influenced by the prayers of La Mole and the wishes of her own heart, arranged a meeting with Henriette for the next day in the house with the double entrance, in order to discuss these matters thoroughly and uninterruptedly.
Coconnas received with rather bad grace the note from Henriette, asking him to be in the Rue Tizon at half-past nine.
Nevertheless he went to the place appointed, where he found Henriette, who was provoked at having arrived first.
“Fie, Monsieur!” she cried, “it is very bad to make — I will not say a princess — but a lady — wait in this way.”
“Wait?” said Coconnas, “what an idea! I’ll wager, on the contrary, that we are ahead of time.”
“Well! and I too; it cannot be more than ten o’clock at the latest.”
“Well! my note said half-past nine.”
“Therefore I left the Louvre at nine o’clock. I am in the service of Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon, be it said in passing, and for this reason I shall be obliged to leave you in an hour.”
“Which pleases you, no doubt?”
“No, indeed! considering the fact that Monsieur d’Alençon is an ill-tempered and capricious master; moreover, if I am to be found fault with, I prefer to have it done by pretty lips like yours rather than by such sullen ones as his.”
“Ah!” said the duchess, “that is a little better. You say, then, that you left the Louvre at nine o’clock.”
“Yes, and with every idea of coming directly here, when at the corner of the Rue de Grenelle I saw a man who looked like La Mole.”
“Good! La Mole again.”
“Always, with or without permission.”
“Ah!” said Coconnas, “we are going to begin our complimentary speeches again.”
“Not at all; but finish your story.”
“I was not the one who wanted to tell it. It was you who asked me why I was late.”
“Yes; was it my place to arrive first?”
“Well, you are not looking for any one.”
“You are growing tiresome, my dear friend; but go on. At the corner of the Rue de Grenelle you saw a man who looked like La Mole — But what is that on your doublet — blood?”
“Yes, and here is more which was probably sprinkled over me as he fell.”
“You had a fight?”
“I should think so.”
“On account of your La Mole?”
“On whose account do you think I would fight? For a woman?”
“I thank you!”
“So I followed this man who had the impudence to look like my friend. I joined him in the Rue Coquillière, I overtook him, and stared into his face under the light from a shop. But it was not La Mole.”
“Good! that was well done.”
“Yes, but he did not think so. ‘Monsieur,’ said I to him, ‘you are an ass to take it upon yourself to resemble from afar my friend Monsieur de la Mole, who is an accomplished cavalier; while on nearer view one can easily perceive that you are nothing but a vagrant.’ Whereupon he drew his sword, and I mine. At the third pass he fell down, sprinkling me with his blood.”
“But you assisted him at least?”
“I was about to do so when a horseman rode by. Ah! this time, duchess, I was sure that it was La Mole. Unfortunately he was galloping. I ran after him as hard as I could, and those who collected around to see the fight ran behind me. Now as I might easily have been mistaken for a thief, followed as I was by all that rabble shouting at my heels, I was obliged to turn back to scatter them, which made me lose a little time. In the meanwhile the rider disappeared; I followed, inquired of every one, gave the color of the horse; but it was useless; no one had noticed him. At last, tired out from the chase, I came here.”
“Tired of the chase!” said the duchess. “How flattering you are!”
“Listen, dear friend,” said Coconnas, turning nonchalantly in his chair. “You are going to bother me again on account of poor La Mole. Now, you are wrong, for friendship, you see — I wish I had his wit or knowledge, I would then find some comparison which would make you understand how I feel — friendship, you see, is a star, while love — love — wait! I have it! — love is only a candle. You will tell me there are several varieties”—
“No! of candles, and that some are better than others. The rose, for instance, is the best; but rose as it is, the candle burns out, while the star shines forever. You will answer this by saying that when the candle is burned out, another is put in its place.”
“Monsieur de Coconnas, you are a goose.”
“Monsieur de Coconnas, you are impertinent.”
“Monsieur de Coconnas, you are a scoundrel.”
“Madame, I warn you that you will make me trebly regret La Mole.”
“You no longer love me.”
“On the contrary, duchess, you do not know it, but I idolize you. But I can love and cherish and idolize you, and yet in my spare moments praise my friend.”
“So you call the time spent with me spare moments, do you?”
“What can you expect? Poor La Mole is constantly in my thoughts.”
“You prefer him to me; that is shameful! and I detest you, Annibal! Why not be frank, and tell me you prefer him to me? Annibal, I warn you of one thing: if you prefer anything in the world to me”—
“Henriette, the loveliest of duchesses! For your own peace of mind, believe me, do not ask such unwise questions. I love you more than any woman, and I love La Mole more than any man.”
“Well answered!” said a strange voice suddenly. A damask curtain was raised in front of a great panel, which, sliding back into the wall, opened a passage between the two rooms, and showed La Mole in the doorway, like one of Titian’s fine portraits in its gilded frame.
“La Mole!” exclaimed Coconnas, without paying any attention to Marguerite or taking the time to thank her for the surprise she had arranged for him; “La Mole, my friend, my dear La Mole!” and he rushed into the arms of his friend, upsetting the armchair in which he had been sitting and the table that stood in his way.
La Mole returned his embrace with effusion; then, turning to the Duchesse de Nevers:
“Pardon me, madame, if the mention of my name has sometimes disturbed your happiness.” “Certainly,” he added, glancing at Marguerite with a look of ineffable tenderness, “it has not been my fault that I have not seen you sooner.”
“You see, Henriette,” said Marguerite, “I have kept my word; here he is!”
“Is it, then, to the prayers of Madame la Duchesse that I owe this happiness?” asked La Mole.
“To her prayers alone,” replied Marguerite.
Then, turning to La Mole, she continued:
“La Mole, I will allow you not to believe one word of what I say.”
Meanwhile Coconnas pressed his friend to his heart over and over again, walked round him a dozen times, and even held a candelabrum to his face the better to see him; then suddenly turning, he knelt down before Marguerite and kissed the hem of her robe.
“Ah! that is pleasant!” said the Duchesse de Nevers. “I suppose now you will find me bearable.”
“By Heaven!” cried Coconnas, “I shall find you as adorable as ever; only now I can tell you so with a lighter heart, and were there any number of Poles, Sarmatians, and other hyperborean barbarians present I should make them all admit that you were the queen of beauties.”
“Gently, gently, Coconnas,” said La Mole, “Madame Marguerite is here!”
“Oh! I cannot help that,” cried Coconnas, with the half-comic air which belonged to him alone, “I still assert that Madame Henriette is the queen of beauties and Madame Marguerite is the beauty of queens.”
But whatever he might say or do, the Piedmontese, completely carried away by the joy of having found his dear La Mole, had neither eyes nor ears for any one but him.
“Come, my beautiful queen,” said Madame de Nevers, “come, let us leave these dear friends to chat awhile alone. They have a thousand things to say to each other which would be interrupted by our conversation. It is hard for us, but it is the only way, I am sure, to make Monsieur Annibal perfectly sane. Do this for me, my queen! since I am foolish enough to love this worthless fellow, as his friend La Mole calls him.”
Marguerite whispered a few words to La Mole, who, anxious as he had been to see his friend, would have been glad had the affection of Coconnas for him been less exacting. Meanwhile Coconnas was endeavoring to bring back a smile and a gentle word to Henriette’s lips, a result which was easily attained. Then the two women passed into the next room, where supper was awaiting them.
The young men were alone. The first questions Coconnas asked his friend were about that fatal evening which had almost cost him his life. As La Mole proceeded in his story the Piedmontese, who, however, was not easily moved, trembled in every limb.
“But why,” said he, “instead of running about the country as you have done, and causing me such uneasiness, did you not seek refuge with our master? The duke who had defended you would have hidden you. I should have been near you and my grief, although feigned, would nevertheless have disturbed every simpleton at court.”
“Our master!” said La Mole, in a low voice, “the Duc d’Alençon?”
“Yes. According to what he told me, I supposed it was to him you owed your life.”
“I owe my life to the King of Navarre,” replied La Mole.
“Oh!” exclaimed Coconnas, “are you sure?”
“Beyond a doubt.”
“Oh! what a good, kind king! But what part did the Duc d’Alençon play in it all?”
“He held the rope to strangle me.”
“By Heaven!” cried Coconnas, “are you sure of what you say, La Mole? What! this pale-faced, pitiful-looking cur strangle my friend! Ah! by Heaven, by tomorrow I will let him know what I think of him.”
“Are you mad?”
“That is true, he would begin again. But what does it matter? Things cannot go on like this.”
“Come, come, Coconnas, calm yourself and try and remember that it is half-past eleven o’clock and that you are on duty to-night.”
“What do I care about my duty to him! Bah! Let him wait! My attendance! I serve a man who has held a rope? You are joking! No! This is providential; it is said that I should find you to leave you no more. I shall stay here.”
“Why, man alive, think what you are saying. You are not drunk, I hope.”
“No, fortunately; if I were I would set fire to the Louvre.”
“Come, Annibal,” said La Mole, “be reasonable. Return to your duties. Service is a sacred thing.”
“Will you return with me?”
“Are they still thinking of killing you?”
“I think not. I am of too little importance for them to have any plot on hand about me. For an instant they wanted to kill me, but that was all. The princes were on a frolic that night.”
“What are you going to do, then?”
“Nothing; wander about or take a walk.”
“Well, I will walk, too, and wander with you. That will be charming. Then, if you are attacked, there will be two of us, and we will give them no end of trouble. Let him come, your duke! I will pin him to the wall like a butterfly!”
“But, at least, say that you are going to leave his service!”
“Yes, I am.”
“In that case, tell him so.”
“Well, that seems only right. I will do so. I will write to him.”
“Write to him! That would be discourteous, Coconnas, to a prince of the blood.”
“Yes, of the blood! of the blood of my friend. Take care,” cried Coconnas, rolling his large, tragic eyes, “lest I trifle with points of etiquette!”
“Probably,” said La Mole to himself, “in a few days he will need neither the prince nor any one else, for if he wants to come with us, we will take him.”
Thereupon Coconnas took the pen without further opposition from his friend and hastily composed the following specimen of eloquence:
“Monseigneur: There can be no doubt but that your highness, versed as you are in the writings of all authors of antiquity, must know the touching story of Orestes and Pylades, who were two heroes celebrated for their misfortunes and their friendship. My friend La Mole is no less unfortunate than was Orestes, while I am no less tender than Pylades. At present he has affairs of importance which demand my aid. It is therefore impossible for me to leave him. So with the consent of your highness I will take a short vacation, determined as I am to attach myself to my friend’s fortune, whithersoever it may lead me. It is with the deepest grief that I tear myself away from the service of your highness, but for this I trust I may obtain your pardon. I venture to subscribe myself with respect, my lord,
“Your highness’s very humble and very obedient servant,
“ANNIBAL, COMTE DE COCONNAS,
“The inseparable friend of Monsieur de la Mole.”
This masterpiece finished, Coconnas read it aloud to La Mole, who merely shrugged his shoulders.
“Well! what do you say to it?” asked Coconnas, who had not seen the shrug, or who had pretended not to see it.
“I say,” replied La Mole, “that Monsieur d’Alençon will laugh at us.”
“Both of us.”
“That will be better, it seems to me, than to strangle each of us separately.”
“Bah!” said La Mole, laughing, “the one will not necessarily prevent the other.”
“Well! so much the worse. Come what may, I will send the letter tomorrow morning. Where shall we sleep when we leave here?”
“At Maître la Hurière’s, in that little room in which you tried to stab me before we were Orestes and Pylades!”
“Very well, I will send my letter to the Louvre by our host.”
Just then the panel moved.
“Well!” asked both princesses at once, “where are Orestes and Pylades?”
“By Heaven! madame,” replied Coconnas, “Pylades and Orestes are dying of hunger and love.”
It was Maître la Hurière himself who, at nine o’clock the following morning, carried to the Louvre the respectful missive of Count Annibal de Coconnas.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53