This time Catharine had taken such precautions that she felt sure of her object.
Consequently, about ten o’clock she sent away Marguerite, thoroughly convinced, as was the case, that the Queen of Navarre was ignorant of the plot against her husband, and went to the King, begging him not to retire so early.
Mystified by the air of triumph which, in spite of her usual dissimulation, appeared on his mother’s face, Charles questioned Catharine, who merely answered:
“I can say only one thing to your Majesty: that this evening you will be freed from two of your bitterest enemies.”
Charles raised his eyebrows like a man who says to himself:
“That is well; we shall see;” and whistling to his great boar-hound, who came to him dragging his belly along the ground like a serpent to lay his fine and intelligent head on his master’s knee, he waited. At the end of a few minutes, during which Catharine sat with eyes and ears alert, a pistol-shot was heard in the courtyard of the Louvre.
“What is that noise?” asked Charles, frowning, while the hound sprang up and pricked his ears.
“Nothing except a signal,” said Catharine; “that is all.”
“And what is the meaning of the signal?”
“It means that from this moment, sire, your one real enemy can no longer injure you.”
“Have they killed a man?” asked Charles, looking at his mother with that look of command which signifies that assassination and mercy are two inherent attributes of royal power.
“No, sire, they have only arrested two.”
“Oh!” murmured Charles, “always hidden plots, always conspiracies around the King. And yet, the devil! mother, I am grown up, and big enough to look out for myself. I need neither leading-strings nor padded caps. Go to Poland with your son Henry if you wish to reign; I tell you you are wrong to play this kind of game here.”
“My son,” said Catharine, “this is the last time I shall meddle with your affairs. But the enterprise in which you have always thwarted me was begun long ago, and I have earnestly endeavored to prove to your Majesty that I am right.”
At that moment several men stopped in the outer hall and the butt-ends of muskets were heard on the pavement. Almost at the same instant Monsieur de Nancey begged an audience of the King.
“Let him enter,” said Charles, hastily.
Monsieur de Nancey appeared, saluted the King, and turning to Catharine said:
“Madame, your majesty’s orders are executed; he is captured.”
“What he?” cried Catharine, greatly troubled. “Have you arrested only one?”
“He was alone, madame.”
“Did he defend himself?”
“No, he was supping quietly in a room, and gave up his sword the moment it was demanded.”
“Who?” asked the King.
“You shall see,” said Catharine. “Bring in the prisoner, Monsieur de Nancey.”
Five minutes later De Mouy was there.
“De Mouy!” cried the King; “what is the matter now, monsieur?”
“Well, sire,” said De Mouy, with perfect composure, “if your Majesty will allow me the liberty, I will ask the same of you.”
“Instead of asking this question of the King,” said Catharine, “have the kindness, Monsieur de Mouy, to tell my son who was the man found in the chamber of the King of Navarre a certain night, and who on that night resisted the orders of his Majesty like the rebel that he is, killed two guards, and wounded Monsieur de Maurevel?”
“Yes,” said Charles, frowning, “do you know the name of that man, Monsieur de Mouy?”
“Yes, sire; does your Majesty wish to hear it?”
“That will please me, I admit.”
“Well, sire, he is called De Mouy de Saint Phale.”
“It was you?”
“It was I.”
Catharine, astonished at this audacity, recoiled a step.
“How did you dare resist the orders of the King?” asked Charles.
“In the first place, sire, I did not know that there was an order from your Majesty; then I saw only one thing, or rather one man, Monsieur de Maurevel, the assassin of my father and of the admiral. I remembered that a year and a half ago, in the very room in which we now are, on the evening of the 24th of August, your Majesty promised me to avenge us on the murderer, and as since that time very grave events have occurred I thought that in spite of himself the King had changed his mind. Seeing Maurevel within reach, I believed Heaven had sent him to me. Your Majesty knows the rest. Sire, I sprang upon him as upon an assassin and fired at his men as I would have fired at bandits.”
Charles made no reply. His friendship for Henry had for some time made him look at many things in a different light from which he had at first seen them, and more than once with terror.
In regard to Saint Bartholomew the queen mother had registered in her memory remarks which had fallen from her son’s lips and which resembled remorse.
“But,” observed Catharine, “what were you doing at that hour in the apartments of the King of Navarre?”
“Oh!” replied De Mouy, “it is a long story, but if his Majesty has the patience to listen”—
“Yes,” said Charles; “speak, I wish to hear it.”
“I will obey, sire,” said De Mouy, bowing.
Catharine sat down, fixing an anxious look on the young chief.
“We are listening,” said Charles. “Here, Actéon!”
The dog resumed the place he had occupied before the prisoner had been admitted.
“Sire,” said De Mouy, “I came to his majesty the King of Navarre as the deputy of our brethren, your faithful subjects of the reformed religion.”
Catharine signed to Charles IX.
“Be quiet, mother,” said the latter. “I do not lose a word. Go on, Monsieur de Mouy, go on; why did you come?”
“To inform the King of Navarre,” continued Monsieur de Mouy, “that his abjuration had lost for him the confidence of the Huguenot party; but that, nevertheless, in remembrance of his father, Antoine de Bourbon, and especially on account of his mother, the courageous Jeanne d’Albret, whose name is dear among us, the followers of the reformed religion owed him this mark of deference, to beg him to desist from his claims to the crown of Navarre.”
“What did he say?” asked Catharine, unable in spite of her self-control to receive this unexpected blow calmly.
“Ah! ah!” said Charles, “and yet this crown of Navarre, which without my permission has been made to jump from head to head, seems to belong a little to me.”
“The Huguenots, sire, recognize better than any one the principle of sovereignty to which your Majesty has just referred. Therefore they hope to induce your Majesty to place the crown on a head that is dear to you.”
“To me!” said Charles; “on a head that is dear to me! The devil! what head do you mean, monsieur? I do not understand.”
“On the head of Monsieur le Duc d’Alençon.”
Catharine became as pale as death, and gave De Mouy a flashing glance.
“Did my brother D’Alençon know this?”
“And did he accept the crown?”
“Subject to the consent of your Majesty, to whom he referred us.”
“Ah!” said Charles, “it is a crown which would suit our brother D’Alençon wonderfully well. And I never thought of it! Thanks, De Mouy, thanks! When you have such ideas you will always be welcome at the Louvre.”
“Sire, you would long since have been informed of this project had it not been for that unfortunate affair of Maurevel’s, which made me afraid I had fallen into disgrace with your Majesty.”
“Yes, but what did Henry say to this plan?” asked Catharine.
“The King of Navarre, madame, yielded to the desire of his brethren, and his renunciation was ready.”
“In that case,” said Catharine, “you must have the renunciation.”
“It happens that I have it with me, madame, signed by him and dated.”
“Dated previous to the affair in the Louvre?” said Catharine.
“Yes, the evening before, I think.”
De Mouy drew from his pocket an abdication in favor of the Duc d’Alençon, written and signed in Henry’s hand, and bearing the date indicated.
“Faith, yes,” said Charles, “and all is in due form.”
“What did Henry demand in return for this renunciation?”
“Nothing, madame; the friendship of King Charles, he told us, would amply repay him for the loss of a crown.”
Catharine bit her lips in anger and wrung her beautiful hands.
“All this is perfectly correct, De Mouy,” said the King.
“Then,” said the queen mother, “if everything was settled between you and the King of Navarre, what was the object of your interview with him this evening?”
“I, madame! with the King of Navarre?” said De Mouy. “Monsieur de Nancey, who arrested me, will bear witness that I was alone. Your majesty can ask him.”
“Monsieur de Nancey!” called the King.
The captain of the guards entered.
“Monsieur de Nancey,” said Catharine, quickly, “was Monsieur de Mouy entirely alone at the inn of the Belle Étoile?”
“In the room, yes, madame; in the hostelry, no.”
“Ah!” said Catharine, “who was his companion?”
“I do not know if he was the companion of Monsieur de Mouy, madame, but I know that a man escaped by a back door after having stretched two of my men on the floor.”
“And you recognized this gentleman, no doubt?”
“No, I did not, but my guards did.”
“Who was he?” asked Charles IX.
“Monsieur le Comte Annibal de Coconnas.”
“Annibal de Coconnas!” exclaimed the King, gloomy and thoughtful; “the one who made such a terrible slaughter of the Huguenots during the massacre of Saint Bartholomew?”
“Monsieur de Coconnas, a gentleman in the suite of Monsieur d’Alençon,” said Monsieur de Nancey.
“Very good,” said Charles IX. “You may go, Monsieur de Nancey, and another time, remember one thing.”
“What is it, sire?”
“That you are in my service, and that you are to obey no one but me.”
Monsieur de Nancey withdrew backwards, bowing respectfully.
De Mouy smiled ironically at Catharine.
There was an instant’s silence. The queen twisted the tassels of her girdle; Charles caressed his dog.
“But what was your intention, monsieur?” continued Charles; “were you acting violently?”
“Against whom, sire?”
“Why, against Henry, or François, or myself.”
“Sire, we have the renunciation of your brother-inlaw, the consent of your brother; and, as I have had the honor of telling you, we were on the point of soliciting your Majesty’s sanction when that unfortunate affair occurred at the Louvre.”
“Well, mother,” said Charles, “I see nothing wrong in all this. You were right, Monsieur de Mouy, in asking for a king. Yes, Navarre may and ought to be a separate kingdom. Moreover, it seems made expressly to give to my brother D’Alençon, who has always had so great a desire for a crown that when we wear ours he cannot keep his eyes off of it. The only thing which stood in the way of this coronation was Henriot’s rights; but since Henriot voluntarily abdicates”—
“It seems that it is the will of God! Monsieur de Mouy, you are free to return to your brethren, whom I have chastised somewhat roughly, perhaps, but that is between God and myself. Tell them that since they desire to have my brother d’Alençon for King of Navarre the King of France accedes to their wishes. From this moment Navarre is a kingdom, and its sovereign is called François. I ask only eight days for my brother to leave Paris with the brilliancy and pomp befitting a king. Now go, Monsieur de Mouy, go! Monsieur de Nancey, allow Monsieur de Mouy to pass; he is free.”
“Sire,” said De Mouy, advancing a step, “will your Majesty permit me?”
“Yes,” said the King, and he extended his hand to the young Huguenot.
De Mouy knelt and kissed the King’s hand.
“By the way,” said Charles, detaining him as he was about to rise, “did you not demand from me justice on that scoundrel of a Maurevel?”
“I do not know where he is, as he is hiding; but if you meet him, take justice into your own hands. I authorize you to do this and gladly.”
“Ah! sire,” cried De Mouy, “your Majesty overwhelms me. Your Majesty may rely on me. I have no idea where he is, but I will find him, you may rest assured.”
De Mouy respectfully saluted King Charles and Queen Catharine, and withdrew without hindrance from the guards who had brought him thither. He passed rapidly through the corridors, reached the gate, and once outside hurried to Place Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, to the inn of the Belle Étoile. Here he found his horse, thanks to which, three hours after the scene we have just described, the young man breathed in safety behind the walls of Mantes.
Catharine, consumed with rage, returned to her apartments, whence she passed into those of Marguerite.
She found Henry there in his dressing-gown, apparently ready for bed.
“Satan!” she murmured, “aid a poor queen for whom God will do nothing more!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53