The two young men, directed by the first person they met, went down the Rue d’Averon, the Rue Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, and soon found themselves before the Louvre, the towers of which were beginning to be lost in the early shades of the gloaming.
“What is the matter with you?” asked Coconnas of La Mole, who, as they came in sight of the old château, stopped and gazed, not without awe, on the drawbridges, the narrow windows, and the pointed belfries, which suddenly rose before his vision.
“I scarcely know,” said La Mole; “my heart beats strangely. I am not timid, but somehow this old palace seems so gloomy and terrible.”
“Well, as for me, I don’t know any reason for it,” replied Coconnas, “but I feel in excellent spirits. My dress is somewhat disordered,” he went on to say, glancing at his travelling costume, “but never mind, it looks as if I had been riding. Besides, my instructions commanded promptness and I shall be welcome because I shall have obeyed punctually.”
The two young men continued their way, each under the influence of the feelings he had expressed.
There was a strong guard at the Louvre and the sentinels were doubled. Our two cavaliers were somewhat embarrassed, therefore, but Coconnas, who had noticed that the Duc de Guise’s name acted like a talisman on the Parisians, approached a sentinel, and making use of the all-powerful name, asked if by means of it he might not be allowed to enter.
The name seemed to produce its ordinary effect upon the soldier; nevertheless he asked Coconnas if he had the countersign.
Coconnas was forced to confess he had not.
“Stand back, then,” said the soldier.
At this moment a person who was talking with the officer of the guard and who had overheard Coconnas ask leave to enter, broke off his conversation and came to him.
“Vat do you vant with Monsieur dee Gouise?” asked he.
“I wish to see him,” said Coconnas, smiling.
“Imbossible! the duke is mit the King.”
“But I have a letter for him.”
“Ah, you haf a ledder for him?”
“Yes, and I have come a long distance.”
“Ah! you haf gome a long tistance?”
“I have come from Piedmont.”
“Vell, vell! dat iss anodder ting. And vat iss your name?”
“The Comte Annibal de Coconnas.”
“Goot! goot! kif me the ledder, Monsieur Annibal, kif it to me!”
“On my word,” said La Mole to himself, “a very civil man. I hope I may find one like him to conduct me to the King of Navarre.”
“But kif me the ledder,” said the German gentleman, holding out his hand toward Coconnas, who hesitated.
“By Heaven!” replied the Piedmontese, distrustful like a half-Italian, “I scarcely know whether I ought, as I have not the honor of knowing you.”
“I am Pesme; I’m addached to Monsir le Douque de Gouise.”
“Pesme,” murmured Coconnas; “I am not acquainted with that name.”
“It is Monsieur de Besme, my dear sir,” said the sentinel. “His pronunciation misled you, that is all; you may safely give him your letter, I’ll answer for it.”
“Ah! Monsieur de Besme!” cried Coconnas; “of course I know you! with the greatest pleasure. Here is the letter. Pardon my hesitation; but fidelity requires one to be careful.”
“Goot, goot! dere iss no need of any egscuse,” said Besme.
“Perhaps, sir,” said La Mole, “you will be so kind as to the same for my letter that you have done for my friend?”
“And vat iss your name, monsir?”
“The Comte Lerac de la Mole.”
“Gount Lerag dee la Mole?”
“I don’t know de name.”
“It is not strange that I have not the honor of being known to you, sir, for like the Comte de Coconnas I am only just arrived in Paris.”
“Where do you gome from?”
“Vit a ledder?”
“For Monsir dee Gouise?”
“No; for his majesty the King of Navarre.”
“I do not pelong to de King of Navarre,” said De Besme coldly, “and derefore I gannot dake your ledder.”
And turning on his heel, he entered the Louvre, bidding Coconnas follow him.
La Mole was left alone.
At this moment a troop of cavaliers, about a hundred in number, came out from the Louvre by a gate alongside that of which Besme and Coconnas had entered.
“Aha!” said the sentinel to his comrade, “there are De Mouy and his Huguenots! See how joyous they all are! The King has probably promised them to put to death the assassin of the admiral; and as it was he who murdered De Mouy’s father, the son will kill two birds with one stone.”
“Excuse me, my good fellow,” interrupted La Mole, “did you not say that officer is M. de Mouy?”
“And that those with him are”—
“Are heretics — I said so.”
“Thank you,” said La Mole, affecting not to notice the scornful word parpaillots, employed by the sentinel. “That was all I wished to know;” and advancing to the chief of the cavaliers:
“Sir,” said he, “I am told you are M. de Mouy.”
“Yes, sir,” returned the officer, courteously.
“Your name, well known among those of our faith, emboldens me to address you, sir, to ask a special favor.”
“What may that be, sir — but first whom have I the honor of addressing?”
“The Comte Lerac de la Mole.”
The young men bowed to each other.
“What can I do for you, sir?” asked De Mouy.
“Sir, I am just arrived from Aix, and bring a letter from M. d’Auriac, Governor of Provence. This letter is directed to the King of Navarre and contains important and pressing news. How can I give it to him? How can I enter the Louvre?”
“Nothing is easier than to enter the Louvre, sir,” replied De Mouy; “but I fear the King of Navarre will be too busy to see you at this hour. However, if you please, I will take you to his apartments, and then you must manage for yourself.”
“A thousand thanks!”
“Come, then,” said De Mouy.
De Mouy dismounted, threw the reins to his lackey, stepped toward the wicket, passed the sentinel, conducted La Mole into the château, and, opening the door leading to the king’s apartments:
“Enter, and inquire for yourself, sir,” said he.
And saluting La Mole, he retired.
La Mole, left alone, looked round.
The ante-room was vacant. One of the inner doors was open. He advanced a few paces and found himself in a passage.
He knocked and spoke, but no one answered. The profoundest silence reigned in this part of the Louvre.
“What was told me about the stern etiquette of this place?” said he to himself. “One may come and go in this palace as if it were a public place.”
Then he called again, but without obtaining any better result than before.
“Well, let us walk straight on,” thought he, “I must meet some one,” and he proceeded down the corridor, which grew darker and darker.
Suddenly the door opposite that by which he had entered opened, and two pages appeared, lighting a lady of noble bearing and exquisite beauty.
The glare of the torches fell full on La Mole, who stood motionless.
The lady stopped also.
“What do you want, sir?” said she, in a voice which fell upon his ears like exquisite music.
“Oh, madame,” said La Mole, casting down his eyes, “pardon me; I have just parted from M. de Mouy, who was so good as to conduct me here, and I wish to see the King of Navarre.”
“His majesty is not here, sir; he is with his brother-inlaw. But, in his absence, could you not say to the queen”—
“Oh, yes, madame,” returned La Mole, “if I could obtain audience of her.”
“You have it already, sir.”
“What?” cried La Mole.
“I am the Queen of Navarre.”
La Mole made such a hasty movement of surprise and alarm that it caused the queen to smile.
“Speak, sir,” said Marguerite, “but speak quickly, for the queen mother is waiting for me.”
“Oh, madame, if the queen mother is waiting for you,” said La Mole, “suffer me to leave you, for just now it would be impossible for me to speak to you. I am incapable of collecting my ideas. The sight of you has dazzled me. I no longer think, I can only admire.”
Marguerite advanced graciously toward the handsome young man, who, without knowing it, was acting like a finished courtier.
“Recover yourself, sir,” said she; “I will wait and they will wait for me.”
“Pardon me, madame,” said La Mole, “if I did not salute your majesty at first with all the respect which you have a right to expect from one of your humblest servants, but”—
“You took me for one of my ladies?” said Marguerite.
“No, madame; but for the shade of the beautiful Diane de Poitiers, who is said to haunt the Louvre.”
“Come, sir,” said Marguerite, “I see you will make your fortune at court; you said you had a letter for the king, it was not needed, but no matter! Where is it? I will give it to him — only make haste, I beg of you.”
In a twinkling La Mole threw open his doublet, and drew from his breast a letter enveloped in silk.
Marguerite took the letter, and glanced at the writing.
“Are you not Monsieur de la Mole?” asked she.
“Yes, madame. Oh, mon Dieu! Can I hope my name is known to your majesty?”
“I have heard the king, my husband, and the Duc d’Alençon, my brother, speak of you. I know they expect you.”
And in her corsage, glittering with embroidery and diamonds, she slipped the letter which had just come from the young man’s doublet and was still warm from the vital heat of his body. La Mole eagerly watched Marguerite’s every movement.
“Now, sir,” said she, “descend to the gallery below, and wait until some one comes to you from the King of Navarre or the Duc d’Alençon. One of my pages will show you the way.”
And Marguerite, as she said these words, went on her way. La Mole drew himself up close to the wall. But the passage was so narrow and the Queen of Navarre’s farthingale was so voluminous that her silken gown brushed against the young man’s clothes, while a penetrating perfume hovered where she passed.
La Mole trembled all over and, feeling that he was in danger of falling, he tried to find a support against the wall.
Marguerite disappeared like a vision.
“Are you coming, sir?” asked the page who was to conduct La Mole to the lower gallery.
“Oh, yes — yes!” cried La Mole, joyfully; for as the page led him the same way by which Marguerite had gone, he hoped that by making haste he might see her again.
And in truth, as he reached the top of the staircase, he perceived her below; and whether she heard his step or looked round by chance, Marguerite raised her head, and La Mole saw her a second time.
“Oh,” said he, as he followed the page, “she is not a mortal — she is a goddess, and as Vergilius Maro says: ‘Et vera incessu patuit dea.’”
“Well?” asked the page.
“Here I am,” replied La Mole, “excuse me, here I am.”
The page, preceding La Mole, descended a story lower, opened one door, then another, and stopping,
“You are to wait here,” said he.
La Mole entered the gallery, the door of which closed after him.
The gallery was vacant except for one gentleman, who was sauntering up and down, and seemed also waiting for some one.
The evening was by this time beginning to scatter monstrous shadows from the depths of the vaulted ceiling, and though the two gentlemen were not twenty paces apart, it was impossible for either to recognize the other’s face.
La Mole drew nearer.
“By Heaven!” muttered he as soon as he was within a few feet of the other, “here is Monsieur le Comte de Coconnas again!”
At the sound of footsteps Coconnas had already turned, and was staring at La Mole with no less astonishment than the other showed.
“By Heaven!” cried he. “The devil take me but here is Monsieur de la Mole! What am I doing? Swearing in the King’s palace? Well, never mind; it seems the King swears in a different way from mine, and even in churches. Here we are at last, then, in the Louvre!”
“Yes; I suppose Monsieur de Besme introduced you?”
“Oh, he is a charming German. Who brought you in?”
“M. de Mouy — I told you the Huguenots had some interest at court. Have you seen Monsieur de Guise?”
“No, not yet. Have you obtained your audience with the King of Navarre?”
“No, but I soon shall. I was brought here and told to wait.”
“Ah, you will see there is some great supper under way and we shall be placed side by side. What a strange chance! For two hours fortune has joined us! But what is the matter? You seem ill at ease.”
“I?” exclaimed La Mole, shivering, for in truth he was still dazzled by the vision which had been vouchsafed him. “Oh, no, but the place in which we are brings into my mind a throng of reflections.”
“Philosophical ones, I suppose. Just the same as it is with me. When you came in I was just going over in my mind all my tutor’s recommendations. Monsieur le Comte, are you acquainted with Plutarch?”
“Certainly I am!” exclaimed La Mole, smiling, “he is one of my favorite authors.”
“Very well,” Coconnas went on gravely, “this great man does not seem to me so far wrong when he compares the gifts of nature to brilliant but ephemeral flowers, while he regards virtue as a balsamic plant of imperishable perfume and sovereign efficacy for the healing of wounds.”
“Do you know Greek, Monsieur de Coconnas?” said La Mole, gazing keenly at his companion.
“No, I do not; but my tutor did, and he strongly advised me when I should be at court to talk about virtue. ‘That looks well,’ he said. So I assure you I am well fortified with it. By the way, are you hungry?”
“And yet you seemed anxious to taste the broiled fowl of La Belle Étoile. As for me, I am dying of starvation!”
“Well, Monsieur de Coconnas, here is a fine chance for you to make use of your arguments on virtue and to put your admiration for Plutarch to the proof, for that great writer says somewhere: ‘It is good to accustom the soul to pain and the stomach to hunger’—‘Prepon esti tên men psvchên odunê, ton de gastéra semó askeïn.’”
“Ah, indeed! So you know Greek?” exclaimed Coconnas in surprise.
“Faith, yes,” replied La Mole, “my tutor taught me.”
“By Heaven! count, your fortune is made if that is so; you will compose poetry with Charles IX. and you will talk Greek with Queen Marguerite!”
“Not to reckon that I can still talk Gascon with the King of Navarre!” added La Mole, laughing.
At this moment the door communicating with the King’s apartment opened, a step was heard, and a shade was seen approaching in the darkness. This shade materialized into a body. This body belonged to Monsieur de Besme.
He scrutinized both gentlemen, so as to pick out the one he wanted, and then motioned Coconnas to follow him.
Coconnas waved his hand to La Mole.
De Besme conducted Coconnas to the end of the gallery, opened a door, and stood at the head of a staircase.
He looked cautiously round, then up and down.
“Monsir de Gogonnas,” said he, “vere are you staying?”
“At La Belle Étoile, Rue de l’Arbre Sec.”
“Goot, goot! dat is glose by. Go pack to your hodel gwick and to-nide”—
He looked around him again.
“Vell, gome here mit a vite gross in your hat. De bassvord is ‘Gouise.’ Hush! nod a vord.”
“What time am I to come?”
“Ven you hear de dogsin.”
“What’s the dogsin?” asked Coconnas.
“Ja! de dogsin — pum! pum!”
“Oh! the tocsin!”
“Ja, vot elus tid I zay?”
“Good — I shall be here,” said Coconnas.
And, saluting De Besme, he took his departure, asking himself:
“What the devil does he mean and why should the tocsin be rung? No matter! I persist in my opinion: Monsieur de Besme is a charming Tedesco — Why not wait for the Comte de la Mole? Ah faith, no! he will probably be invited to supper with the King of Navarre.”
And Coconnas set forth for the Rue de l’Arbre Sec, where the sign of La Belle Étoile like a lodestone attracted him.
Meantime a gallery door which led to the King of Navarre’s apartment opened, and a page approached Monsieur de la Mole.
“You are the Comte de la Mole?” said he.
“That is my name.”
“Where do you lodge?”
“At La Belle Étoile, Rue de l’Arbre Sec.”
“Good, that is close to the Louvre. Listen — his majesty the King of Navarre has desired me to inform you that he cannot at present receive you; perhaps he may send for you to-night; but if tomorrow morning you have received no word, come to the Louvre.”
“But supposing the sentinel refuse me admission.”
“True: the countersign is ‘Navarre;’ that word will open all doors to you.”
“Wait, my dear sir, I am ordered to escort you to the wicket gate for fear you should get lost in the Louvre.”
“By the way, how about Coconnas?” said La Mole to himself as soon as he was fairly in the street. “Oh, he will remain to supper with the Duc de Guise.”
But as soon as he entered Maître la Hurière’s the first thing La Mole saw was Coconnas seated before a gigantic omelet.
“Oho!” cried Coconnas, laughing heartily, “I see you have no more dined with the King of Navarre than I have supped with the Duc de Guise.”
“Are you hungry now?”
“I believe I am.”
“In spite of Plutarch?”
“Count,” said La Mole, laughing, “Plutarch says in another place: ‘Let him that hath, share with him that hath not.’ Are you willing for the love of Plutarch to share your omelet with me? Then while we eat we will converse on virtue!”
“Oh, faith, not on that subject,” cried Coconnas. “It is all right when one is at the Louvre and there is danger of eavesdroppers and one’s stomach is empty. Sit down and have something to eat with me.”
“There, now I see that fate has decidedly made us inseparable. Are you going to sleep here?”
“I have not the least idea.”
“Nor I either.”
“At any rate, I know where I shall spend the night.”
“Wherever you do: that is settled.”
And both burst out laughing and then set to work to do honor to Maître la Hurière’s omelet.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07