Hawking was a beautiful sport as carried on by kings, when kings were almost demi-gods, and when the chase was not only a pastime but an art.
Nevertheless we must leave the royal spectacle to enter a part of the forest where the actors in the scene we have just described will soon join us.
The Allée des Violettes was a long, leafy arcade and mossy retreat in which, among lavender and heather, a startled hare now and then pricked up its ears, and a wandering stag raised its head heavy with horns, opened its nostrils, and listened. To the right of this alley was an open space far enough from the road to be invisible, but not so far but that the road could be seen from it.
In the middle of the clearing two men were lying on the grass. Under them were travellers’ cloaks, at their sides long swords, and near each of them a musketoon (then called a petronel) with the muzzle turned from them. In the richness of their costume they resembled the joyous characters of the “Decameron;” on closer view, by the threatening aspect of their weapons, they seemed like those forest robbers whom a hundred years later Salvator Rosa painted from nature in his landscapes. One of them was leaning on his hand and on one knee, listening as attentively as the hare or deer we mentioned above.
“It seems to me,” said this one, “that the hunt was very near us just now. I heard the cries of the hunters cheering the falcon.”
“And now,” said the other, who seemed to await events with much more philosophy than his companion, “now I hear nothing more; they must have gone away. I told you this was a poor place from which to see anything. We cannot be seen, it is true; but we cannot see, either.”
“The devil! my dear Annibal,” said the first speaker, “we had to put our horses somewhere, as well as the mules, which, by the way, are so heavily laden that I do not see how they can follow us. Now I know that these old beeches and oaks are perfectly suited to this difficult task. I should venture to say that far from blaming Monsieur de Mouy as you are doing, I recognize in every detail of the enterprise he is directing the common sense of a true conspirator.”
“Good!” said the second gentleman, whom no doubt our reader has already recognized as Coconnas; “good! that is the word! I expected it! I relied on you for it! So we are conspiring?”
“We are not conspiring; we are serving the king and the queen.”
“Who are conspiring and which amounts to the same for us.”
“Coconnas, I have told you,” said La Mole, “that I do not in the least force you to follow me in this affair. I have undertaken it only because of a particular sentiment, which you can neither feel nor share.”
“Well, by Heaven! Who said that you were forcing me? In the first place, I know of no one who could compel Coconnas, to do what he did not wish to do; but do you suppose that I would let you go without following you, especially when I see that you are going to the devil?”
“Annibal! Annibal!” said La Mole, “I think that I see her white palfrey in the distance. Oh! it is strange how my heart throbs at the mere thought of her coming!”
“Yes, it is strange,” said Coconnas, yawning; “my heart does not throb in the least.”
“It is not she,” said La Mole. “What can have happened? They were to be here at noon, I thought.”
“It happens that it is not noon,” said Coconnas, “that is all, and, apparently, we still have time to take a nap.”
So saying, Coconnas stretched himself on his cloak like a man who is about to add practice to precept; but as his ear touched the ground he raised his finger and motioned La Mole to be silent.
“What is it?” asked the latter.
“Hush! this time I am sure I hear something.”
“That is singular; I have listened, but I hear nothing.”
“Well!” said Coconnas, rising and laying his hand on La Mole’s arm, “look at that deer.”
Coconnas pointed to the animal.
“Well, you will see.”
La Mole watched the deer. With head bent forward as though about to browse it listened without stirring. Soon it turned its head, covered with magnificent branching horns, in the direction from which no doubt the sound came. Then suddenly, without apparent cause, it disappeared like a flash of lightning.
“Oh!” said La Mole, “I believe you are right, for the deer has fled.”
“Because of that,” said Coconnas, “it must have heard what you have not heard.”
In short, a faint, scarcely perceptible sound quivered vaguely through the passes; to less practised ears it would have seemed like the breeze; for the two men it was the far-off galloping of horses. In an instant La Mole was on his feet.
“Here they are!” said he; “quick.”
Coconnas rose, but more calmly. The energy of the Piedmontese seemed to have passed into the heart of La Mole, while on the other hand the indolence of the latter seemed to have taken possession of his friend. One acted with enthusiasm; the other with reluctance. Soon a regular and measured sound struck the ear of the two friends. The neighing of a horse made the coursers they had tied ten paces away prick up their ears, as through the alley there passed like a white shadow a woman who, turning towards them, made a strange sign and disappeared.
“The queen!” they exclaimed together.
“What can it mean?” asked Coconnas.
“She made a sign,” said La Mole, “which meant ‘presently.’”
“She made a sign,” said Coconnas, “which meant ‘flee!’”
“The signal meant ‘wait for me.’”
“The signal meant ‘save yourself.’”
“Well,” said La Mole, “let each act on his own conviction; you leave and I will remain.”
Coconnas shrugged his shoulders and lay down again.
At that moment in the opposite direction from that in which the queen was going, but in the same alley, there passed at full speed a troop of horsemen whom the two friends recognized as ardent, almost rabid Protestants. Their steeds bounded like the locusts of which Job said, ‘They came and went.’”
“The deuce! the affair is growing serious,” said Coconnas, rising. “Let us go to the pavilion of François I.”
“No,” said La Mole; “if we are discovered it will be towards the pavilion that the attention of the King will be at first directed, since that is the general meeting-place.”
“You may be right, this time,” grumbled Coconnas.
Scarcely had Coconnas uttered these words before a horseman passed among the trees like a flash of lightning, and leaping ditches, bushes, and all barriers reached the two gentlemen.
He held a pistol in each hand and with his knees alone guided his horse in its furious chase.
“Monsieur de Mouy!” exclaimed Coconnas, uneasy and now more on the alert than La Mole; “Monsieur de Mouy running away! Every one for himself, then!”
“Quick! quick!” cried the Huguenot; “away! all is lost! I have come around to tell you so. Away!”
As if he had not stopped to utter these words, he was gone almost before they were spoken, and before La Mole and Coconnas realized their meaning.
“And the queen?” cried La Mole.
But the young man’s voice was lost in the distance; De Mouy was too far away either to hear or to answer him.
Coconnas had speedily made up his mind. While La Mole stood motionless, gazing after De Mouy, who had disappeared among the trees, he ran to the horses, led them out, sprang on his own, and, throwing the bridle of the other to La Mole, prepared to gallop off.
“Come! come!” cried he; “I repeat what De Mouy said: Let us be off! De Mouy knows what he is doing. Come, La Mole, quick!”
“One moment,” said La Mole; “we came here for something.”
“Unless it is to be hanged,” replied Coconnas, “I advise you to lose no more time. I know you are going to parse some rhetoric, paraphrase the word ‘flee,’ speak of Horace, who hurled his buckler, and Epaminondas, who was brought back on his. But I tell you one thing, when Monsieur de Mouy de Saint Phale flees all the world may run too.”
“Monsieur de Mouy de Saint Phale,” said La Mole, “was not charged to carry off Queen Marguerite! Nor does Monsieur de Mouy de Saint Phale love Queen Marguerite!”
“By Heaven! he is right if this love would make him do such foolish things as you plan doing. May five hundred thousand devils from hell take away the love which may cost two brave gentlemen their heads! By Heaven! as King Charles says, we are conspiring, my dear fellow; and when plans fail one must run. Mount! mount, La Mole!”
“Mount yourself, my dear fellow, I will not prevent you. I even urge you to do so. Your life is more precious than mine. Defend it, therefore.”
“You must say to me: ‘Coconnas, let us be hanged together,’ and not ‘Coconnas, save yourself.’”
“Bah! my friend,” replied La Mole, “the rope is made for clowns, not for gentlemen like ourselves.”
“I am beginning to think,” said Coconnas, “that the precaution I took is not bad.”
“To have made friends with the hangman.”
“You are sinister, my dear Coconnas.”
“Well, what are we going to do?” cried the latter, impatiently.
“Set out and find the queen.”
“I do not know — seek the king.”
“I have not the least idea; but we must find him, and we two by ourselves can do what fifty others neither could nor would dare to do.”
“You appeal to my pride, Hyacinthe; that is a bad sign.”
“Well! come; to horse and away!”
“A good suggestion!”
La Mole turned to seize the pommel of his saddle, but just as he put his foot in the stirrup an imperious voice was heard:
“Halt there! surrender!”
At the same moment the figure of a man appeared behind an oak, then another, then thirty. They were the light-horse, who, dismounted, had glided on all fours in and out among the bushes, searching the forest.
“What did I tell you?” murmured Coconnas, in a low tone.
A dull groan was La Mole’s only answer.
The light-horse were still thirty paces away from the two friends.
“Well!” continued the Piedmontese, in a loud tone, to the lieutenant of the dragoons. “What is it, gentlemen?”
The lieutenant ordered his men to aim.
Coconnas continued under breath:
“Mount, La Mole, there is still time. Spring into your saddle as I have seen you do hundreds of times, and let us be off.”
Then turning to the light-horse:
“The devil, gentlemen, do not fire; you would kill friends.”
Then to La Mole:
“Between the trees they cannot aim well; they will fire and miss us.”
“Impossible,” said La Mole, “we cannot take Marguerite’s horse with us or the two mules. They would compromise us, whereas by my replies I can avert all suspicion. Go, my friend, go!”
“Gentlemen,” said Coconnas, drawing his sword and raising it, “gentlemen, we surrender.”
The light-horse dropped their muskets.
“But first tell us why we must do so?”
“You must ask that of the King of Navarre.”
“What crime have we committed?”
“Monsieur d’Alençon will inform you.”
Coconnas and La Mole looked at each other. The name of their enemy at such a moment did not greatly reassure them.
Yet neither of them made any resistance. Coconnas was asked to dismount, a manoeuvre which he executed without a word. Then both were placed in the centre of the light-horse and took the road to the pavilion.
“You always wanted to see the pavilion of François I.,” said Coconnas to La Mole, perceiving through the trees the walls of a beautiful Gothic structure; “now it seems you will.”
La Mole made no reply, but merely extended his hand to Coconnas.
By the side of this lovely pavilion, built in the time of Louis XII., and named after François I., because the latter always chose it as a meeting-place when he hunted, was a kind of hut built for prickers, partly hidden behind the muskets, halberds, and shining swords like an ant-hill under a whitening harvest.
The prisoners were conducted to this hut.
We will now relate what had happened and so throw some light on the situation, which looked very dark, especially for the two friends.
The Protestant gentlemen had assembled, as had been agreed on, in the pavilion of François I., of which, as we know, De Mouy had the key.
Masters of the forest, or at least so they had believed, they had placed sentinels here and there whom the light-horse, having exchanged their white scarfs for red ones (a precaution due to the ingenious zeal of Monsieur de Nancey), had surprised and carried away without a blow.
The light-horse had continued their search surrounding the pavilion; but De Mouy, who, as we know, was waiting for the king at the end of the Allée des Violettes, had perceived the red scarfs stealing along and had instantly suspected them. He sprang to one side so as not to be seen, and noticed that the vast circle was narrowing in such a way as to beat the forest and surround the meeting-place. At the same time, at the end of the principal alley, he had caught a glimpse of the white aigrettes and the shining arquebuses of the King’s bodyguard.
Finally he saw the King himself, while in the opposite direction he perceived the King of Navarre.
Then with his hat he had made a sign of the cross, which was the signal agreed on to indicate that all was lost.
At this signal the king had turned back and disappeared. De Mouy at once dug the two wide rowels of his spurs into the sides of his horse and galloped away, shouting as he went the words of warning which we have mentioned, to La Mole and Coconnas.
Now the King, who had noticed the absence of Henry and Marguerite, arrived, escorted by Monsieur d’Alençon, just as the two men came out of the hut to which he had said that all those found, not only in the pavilion but in the forest, were to be conducted.
D’Alençon, full of confidence, galloped close by the King, whose sharp pains were augmenting his ill humor. Two or three times he had nearly fainted and once he had vomited blood.
“Come,” said he on arriving, “let us make haste; I want to return to the Louvre. Bring out all these rascals from their hole. This is Saint Blaise’s day; he was cousin to Saint Bartholomew.”
At these words of the King the entire mass of pikes and muskets began to move, and one by one the Huguenots were forced out not only from the forest and the pavilion but from the hut.
But the King of Navarre, Marguerite, and De Mouy were not there.
“Well,” said the King, “where is Henry? Where is Margot? You promised them to me, D’Alençon, and, by Heaven, they will have to be found!”
“Sire, we have not even seen the King and the Queen of Navarre.”
“But here they are,” said Madame de Nevers.
At that moment, at the end of an alley leading to the river, Henry and Margot came in sight, both as calm as if nothing had happened; both with their falcons on their wrists, riding lovingly side by side, so that as they galloped along their horses, like themselves, seemed to be caressing each other.
It was then that D’Alençon, furious, commanded the forest to be searched, and that La Mole and Coconnas were found within their ivy bower. They, too, in brotherly proximity entered the circle formed by the guards; only, as they were not sovereigns, they could not assume so calm a manner as Henry and Marguerite. La Mole was too pale and Coconnas too red.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49