After the refusal of the Duc d’Alençon, which left everything in peril, even his life, Henry became more intimate with the prince than ever, if that were possible. Catharine concluded from the intimacy that the two princes not only understood each other perfectly, but also that they were planning some mutual conspiracy. She questioned Marguerite on the subject, but Marguerite was worthy of her mother, and the Queen of Navarre, whose chief talent lay in avoiding explanations, parried her mother’s questions so cleverly that although replying to all she left Catharine more mystified than ever.
The Florentine, therefore, had nothing to guide her except the spirit of intrigue she had brought with her from Tuscany, the most interesting of the small states of that period, and the feeling of hatred she had imbibed from the court of France, which was more divided in its interests and opinions than any court at that time.
She realized that a part of the strength of the Béarnais came from his alliance with the Duc d’Alençon, and she determined to separate them.
From the moment she formed this resolution she beset her son with the patience and the wiles of an angler, who, when he has dropped his bait near the fish, unconsciously draws it in until his prey is caught.
François perceived this increase of affection on the part of his mother and made advances to her. As for Henry, he pretended to see nothing, but kept a closer watch on his ally than he had yet done.
Every one was waiting for some event.
During this state of things, one morning when the sun rose clear, giving out that gentle warmth and sweet odor which announce a beautiful day, a pale man, leaning on a cane, and walking with difficulty, came out of a small house situated behind the arsenal, and walked slowly along the Rue du Petit Muse.
At the Porte Saint Antoine he turned into the street which encircles the moat of the Bastille like a marsh, left the boulevard on his left and entered the Archery Garden, where the gatekeeper received him with every mark of respect.
There was no one in the garden, which, as its name implies, belonged to a particular society called the Taxopholites. Had there been any strollers there the pale man would have merited their sympathy, for his long mustache, his military step and bearing, though weakened by suffering, sufficiently indicated that he was an officer who had been recently wounded, and who was endeavoring to regain his strength by moderate exercise in the open air.
Yet, strange to say, when the cloak opened in which, in spite of the increasing heat, this apparently harmless man was wrapped, it displayed a pair of long pistols suspended from the silver clasps of his belt. This belt also sustained a dagger and a sword so enormously long that it seemed almost impossible to be handled, and which, completing this living arsenal, clattered against his shrunken and trembling legs.
As an additional precaution the lonely soldier glanced around at every step as though to question each turn of the path, each bush and ditch.
Having entered the garden without being molested, the man reached a sort of small arbor, facing the boulevard, from which it was separated by a thick hedge and a small ditch which formed a double inclosure. He threw himself upon a grassy bank within reach of a table on which the host of the establishment, who combined with his duties as gatekeeper the vocation of cook, at once placed a bottle of cordial.
The invalid had been there about ten minutes and had several times raised the china cup to his lips, taking little sips of its contents, when suddenly his countenance, in spite of its interesting pallor, assumed a startled expression. From the Croix Faubin, along a path which today is the Rue de Naples, he had perceived a cavalier, wrapped in a great cloak, stop near the moat.
Not more than five minutes had elapsed, during which the man of the pale face, whom the reader has perhaps already recognized as Maurevel, had scarcely had time to recover from the emotion caused by his unexpected presence, when the horseman was joined by a man in a close-fitting coat, like that of a page, who came by the road which is since known as the Rue des Fossés Saint Nicholas.
Hidden in his leafy arbor, Maurevel could easily see and hear everything, and when it is known that the cavalier was De Mouy and the young man in the tight-fitting cloak Orthon, one may imagine whether Maurevel’s eyes and ears were not on the alert.
Both men looked very carefully around. Maurevel held his breath.
“You may speak, monsieur,” said Orthon, who being the younger was the more confident; “no one can either see or hear us.”
“That is well,” said De Mouy, “you are to go to Madame de Sauve, and if you find her in her rooms give her this note. If she is not there, you will place it behind the mirror where the king is in the habit of putting his letters. Then you will wait in the Louvre. If you receive an answer, you will bring it you know where; if no reply is sent, you will meet me this evening with a petronel at the spot I showed you, and from which I have just come.”
“Very well,” said Orthon, “I understand.”
“I will now leave you. I have much to do today. You need make no haste — there is no use in it, for you do not need to reach the Louvre until he is there, and I think he is taking a lesson in hawking this morning. Now go, and show me what you can do. You have recovered, and you apparently are going to thank Madame de Sauve for her kindness to you during your illness. Now go, my boy.”
Maurevel listened, his eyes fixed, his hair on end, his forehead covered with perspiration. His first impulse had been to detach one of his pistols from his belt and aim at De Mouy; but a movement of the latter had opened his cloak and displayed a firm and solid cuirass. Therefore in all probability the ball would flatten itself against this cuirass or strike some part of the body wherein the wound would not be fatal. Besides, he reflected that De Mouy, strong and well armed, would have an advantage over him, wounded as he was. So with a sigh he drew back the weapon which he had pointed at the Huguenot.
“How unfortunate,” he murmured, “that I am unable to stretch him dead on the spot, without other witness than that young varlet who would have been such a good mark for my second ball!”
But Maurevel thought that the note given to Orthon and which he was to deliver to Madame de Sauve might perhaps be of more importance than the life of the Huguenot chief.
“Well!” said he, “you have escaped me again this morning; be it so. To-morrow I will have my turn at you if I have to follow you into that hell from which you have come to ruin me, unless I destroy you.”
De Mouy raised his cloak over his face, and set out rapidly in the direction of the Temple. Orthon took the road along the moat which led to the banks of the river.
Then Maurevel, rising with more energy and vigor than he had dared to hope for, regained the Rue de la Cerisaie, reached his home, ordered a horse to be saddled, and weak as he was and at the risk of opening his wounds again, set off at a gallop to the Rue Saint Antoine, reached the quays, and entered the Louvre.
Five minutes after he had passed under the gate Catharine knew all that had just taken place, and Maurevel had received the thousand golden crowns promised him for the arrest of the King of Navarre.
“Oh!” said Catharine, “either I am mistaken or this De Mouy is the black spot that was discovered by Réné in the horoscope of the accursed Béarnais.”
A quarter of an hour after Maurevel Orthon entered the Louvre, showed himself as De Mouy had directed, and went to the apartments of Madame de Sauve, after having spoken to several attendants of the palace.
Dariole was the only one in her mistress’s rooms. Catharine had asked the latter to write certain important letters, and she had been with the queen for the last five minutes.
“No matter,” said Orthon, “I will wait.”
Taking advantage of his intimacy in the house, the young man went into the sleeping-room of the baroness, and, having assured himself that he was alone, he laid the note behind the mirror. Just as he was removing his hand Catharine entered.
Orthon turned pale, for it seemed to him that the quick, searching glance of the queen mother was first directed to the mirror.
“What are you doing here, my little man?” asked Catharine; “looking for Madame de Sauve?”
“Yes, madame; it is a long time since I saw her, and if I delay any longer in thanking her I fear she will think me ungrateful.”
“You love this dear Charlotte very much, do you not?”
“With all my heart, madame!”
“And you are faithful, from what I hear.”
“Your majesty will understand that this is very natural when you know that Madame de Sauve took more care of me than I, being only an humble servant, deserved.”
“And upon what occasion did she bestow all this care on you?” asked Catharine, pretending to be ignorant of what had happened to the youth.
“When I was wounded, madame.”
“Ah, poor boy!” said Catharine, “you were wounded?”
“When was that?”
“The night they tried to arrest the King of Navarre. I was so terrified at sight of the soldiers that I called and shouted; and one of the men gave me a blow on the head which knocked me senseless.”
“Poor boy! And are you quite recovered now?”
“So that you are trying to get back into the service of the King of Navarre?”
“No, madame. When the King of Navarre learned that I had dared to resist your majesty’s order he dismissed me at once.”
“Indeed!” said Catharine, in a tone full of interest; “well, I will see to that affair. But if you are waiting for Madame de Sauve you will wait in vain, for she is occupied in my apartments.”
Whereupon, thinking that Orthon perhaps had not had time to hide his note behind the mirror, Catharine stepped into the adjoining room in order to give him the necessary opportunity.
But just as Orthon, anxious at the unexpected arrival of the queen mother, was wondering whether her coming did not forebode some plot against his master, he heard three gentle taps against the ceiling. This was the signal which he himself was in the habit of giving his master in case of danger when the latter was with Madame de Sauve and Orthon was keeping guard.
He started at the sound; a light broke upon his mind; he fancied that this time the warning had been given to him. Springing to the mirror, he removed the note he had just placed there.
Through an opening in the tapestry Catharine had followed every movement of the boy. She saw him dart to the mirror, but she did not know whether it was to hide the note or take it away.
“Well!” murmured the impatient Florentine; “why does he not leave now?”
And she returned to the room smiling.
“Still here, my boy?” said she; “why, what do you want? Did I not tell you that I would look after your fortune? When I say a thing you do not doubt it, do you?”
“Oh, madame, God forbid!” replied Orthon.
And approaching the queen, he bent his knee, kissed the hem of her robe, and at once withdrew.
As he went through the antechamber he saw the captain of the guards, who was waiting for Catharine. The sight of this man, instead of allaying his suspicions, augmented them.
On her part, no sooner had she seen the curtains fall behind Orthon than Catharine sprang to the mirror. But in vain she sought behind it with hands trembling with impatience. She found no note.
And yet she was sure that she had seen the boy approach the mirror. It was to remove the note, therefore, and not to leave it. Fate had given to her enemies a strength equal to her own.
A child had become a man the moment he fought with her.
She moved the mirror, looked behind it, tapped it; nothing was there!
“Oh! unhappy boy!” cried she, “I wished him no ill and now by removing the note he hastens his destiny. Ho, there, Monsieur de Nancey!”
The vibrating tones of the queen mother rang through the salon and penetrated into the anteroom, where, as we have said, Monsieur de Nancey was waiting.
The captain of the guards hastened to the queen.
“Here I am, madame,” said he, “what is your majesty’s will?”
“Have you been in the antechamber?”
“Did you see a young man, a child, pass through?”
“He cannot have gone far, can he?”
“Scarcely to the stairway.”
“Call him back.”
“What is his name?”
“Orthon. If he refuses to come bring him back by force; but do not frighten him unless he resists. I must speak to him at once.”
The captain of the guards hurriedly withdrew.
As he had said, Orthon was scarcely half way down the stairs, for he was descending slowly, hoping to meet or see the King of Navarre or Madame de Sauve somewhere.
He heard his name and gave a start.
His first impulse was to run, but with forethought beyond his years he realized that by doing so all would be lost.
He stopped therefore.
“Who calls me?”
“I, Monsieur de Nancey,” replied the captain of the guards, hurrying down the stairs.
“But I am in haste,” said Orthon.
“By order of her majesty the queen mother,” said Monsieur de Nancey, as he came up to him.
The youth wiped the perspiration from his brow and turned back.
The captain followed.
Catharine’s first idea had been to stop the young man, have him searched, and take possession of the note which she knew he had. She had planned to accuse him of theft, and with this end in view she had removed from the toilet table a diamond clasp which she was going to say he had taken.
But on reflection she concluded that this would be dangerous, in that it would arouse the boy’s suspicions and he would inform his master, who would then begin to mistrust something, and so her enemy would gain an advantage over her.
She could, no doubt, have the young man taken to some dungeon, but the rumor of the arrest, however secretly it might be done, would spread through the Louvre, and the slightest inkling of it would put Henry on his guard. However, she must have the note, for a note from Monsieur de Mouy to the King of Navarre, a note sent with such precautions, surely meant conspiracy.
She put back the clasp from where she had taken it.
“No, no,” said she, “that would be the method of a guard; it is poor. But for a note — which perhaps after all is not worth the trouble,” she continued, frowning, and speaking so low that she herself could scarcely hear the sound of her words. “Well, it is not my fault, but his. Why did not the little scoundrel put the note where he should have put it? I must have this letter.”
Just then Orthon entered.
Catharine’s face wore such a terrible expression that the youth stopped on the threshold pale as death. He was still too young to be perfect master of himself.
“Madame,” said he, “you have done me the honor of calling me back. In what can I serve your majesty?”
Catharine’s face lighted up as if a ray of sunlight had touched it.
“I called you back, my child,” said she, “because your face pleases me, and having promised to help you I am anxious to do so without delay. We queens are sometimes accused of being forgetful. But this is not on account of our hearts, but because our minds are filled with business. Now I remembered that kings hold men’s fortunes in their hands, and so I called you back. Follow me, my child.”
Monsieur de Nancey, who was taking the affair seriously, was greatly surprised at Catharine’s affectionate manner.
“Can you ride, my child?” asked Catharine.
“Then come into my room. I want to give you a message to carry to Saint Germain.”
“I am at your majesty’s command.”
“Order a horse to be saddled, De Nancey.”
Monsieur de Nancey disappeared.
“Come, boy,” said Catharine, leading the way.
Orthon followed. The queen mother descended to the next floor, entered the corridor in which were the apartments of the king and the Duc d’Alençon, reached the winding staircase, again descended a flight of stairs, and opened a door leading to a circular gallery to which none but the king and herself possessed the key. Bidding Orthon pass in first, she entered after him and locked the door. This gallery formed a sort of rampart to a certain portion of the apartments of the king and the queen mother, and, like the corridor of the castle of Saint Angelo at Rome, or that of the Pitti Palace at Florence, was a safe place in case of danger. The door locked, Catharine was alone with the young man in the dark corridor. Each advanced a few steps, the queen leading the way, Orthon following.
Suddenly Catharine turned and Orthon again saw on her face the same sinister expression which he had seen on it a few minutes before. Her eyes were as round as those of a cat or a panther and seemed to dart forth fire in the darkness.
“Stop!” she cried.
Orthon felt a shiver run through him; a deathly cold like an icy cloak seemed to fall from the ceiling. The floor felt like the covering of a tomb. Catharine’s glance was so sharp that it seemed to penetrate to the very soul of the page. He recoiled and leaned against the wall, trembling from head to foot.
“Where is the note you were charged to give to the King of Navarre?”
“The note?” stammered Orthon.
“Yes; which, if you did not find him, you were to place behind the mirror?”
“I, madame,” said Orthon, “I do not know what you mean.”
“The note which De Mouy gave you an hour ago, behind the Archery Garden.”
“I have no note,” said Orthon; “your majesty must be mistaken.”
“You lie,” said Catharine; “give me the note, and I will keep the promise I made you.”
“What promise, madame?”
“I will make your fortune.”
“I have no note, madame,” repeated the child.
Catharine ground her teeth; then assuming a smile:
“Give it to me,” said she, “and you shall have a thousand golden crowns.”
“I have no note, madame.”
“Two thousand crowns.”
“Impossible; since I have no note, how can I give it to you?”
“Ten thousand crowns, Orthon.”
Orthon, who saw the anger of the queen rising, felt that there was only one way of saving his master, and that was to swallow the note. He put his hand to his pocket, but Catharine guessed his intention and stopped him.
“There, my child,” said she, laughing, “you are certainly faithful. When kings wish to attach a follower to them there is no harm in their making sure of his trustworthiness. Here, take this purse as a first reward. Go and carry your note to your master, and tell him that from today you are in my service. You can get out without me by the door we entered. It opens from within.”
And giving the purse to the astonished youth Catharine walked on a few steps and placed her hand against the wall.
But the young man stood still, hesitating. He could not believe that the danger he had felt hovering over him was gone.
“Come, do not tremble so,” said Catharine. “Have I not told you that you were free to go, and that if you wish to come back your fortune is made?”
“Thank you, madame,” said Orthon. “Then you pardon me?”
“I do more, I reward you; you are a faithful bearer of notes, a gentle messenger of love. But you forget your master is waiting for you.”
“Ah! that is true,” said the young man, springing towards the door.
But scarcely had he advanced three steps before the floor gave way beneath his feet. He stumbled, extended both hands, gave a fearful cry, and disappeared in the dungeon of the Louvre, the spring of which Catharine had just touched.
“So,” murmured the queen, “thanks to the fellow’s obstinacy I shall have to descend a hundred and fifty steps.”
The queen mother returned to her apartments, lighted a dark lantern, came back to the corridor, closed the spring, and opened the door of a spiral staircase which seemed to lead to the bowels of the earth. Urged on by the insatiable thirst of a curiosity which was but the minister of her hatred, she reached an iron door which turned on its hinges and admitted her to the depths of the dungeon. Bleeding, crushed, and mutilated by a fall of a hundred feet or more, but still breathing, lay poor Orthon.
Beyond the thick wall the waters of the Seine were heard roaring, brought to the foot of the stairs by a subterranean channel.
Catharine entered the damp and unwholesome place, which during her reign had witnessed many a fall similar to the one it had just seen, searched the body, seized the letter, made sure that it was the one she desired, then pushing aside the body with her foot she pressed a spring, the bottom of the dungeon sank, and the corpse, carried down by its own weight, disappeared in the direction of the river.
Closing the door again, Catharine ascended, shut herself in her closet, and read the note, which contained these words:
“This evening at ten o’clock, Rue de l’Arbre Sec, Hôtel de la Belle Étoile. If you come send no reply; otherwise send back NO by the bearer.
“DE MOUY DE SAINT PHALE.”
As Catharine read this note a smile came to her lips. She was thinking of the victory she was to gain, forgetting the price at which she had bought it. But after all what was Orthon? A faithful, devoted follower, a handsome young boy; that was all.
That, one may well imagine, would not for an instant have turned the scales on which the fate of empires had been weighed.
The note read, Catharine at once went to Madame de Sauve’s and placed it behind the mirror.
As she came down she found the captain of the guards at the entrance of the corridor.
“Madame,” said Monsieur de Nancey, “according to your majesty’s orders the horse is ready.”
“My dear baron,” said Catharine, “we shall not need it. I have made the boy speak, and he is really too stupid to be charged with the errand I wanted to entrust to him. I thought he was a lackey, but he is nothing but a groom at best. I gave him some money and dismissed him by the private gate.”
“But,” said Monsieur de Nancey, “the errand?”
“The errand?” asked Catharine.
“The one on which he was to go to Saint Germain. Does your majesty wish me to undertake it, or shall I have one of my men attend to it?”
“No, no,” said Catharine, “this evening you and your men will have something else to do.”
Whereupon the queen mother returned to her room, hoping that evening to hold in her hands the fate of the accursed King of Navarre.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53