The spectacle which struck the young men as they entered the circle, although seen but for a few moments, was one never to be forgotten.
As we have said, Charles IX. had watched the gentlemen as the guards led them one by one from the pricker’s hut.
Both he and D’Alençon anxiously followed every movement, waiting to see the King of Navarre come out. Both, however, were doomed to disappointment. But it was not enough to know that the king was not there, it was necessary to find out what had become of him.
Therefore when the young couple were seen approaching from the end of the alley, D’Alençon turned pale, while Charles felt his heart grow glad; he instinctively desired that everything his brother had forced him to do should fall back on the duke.
“He will outwit us again,” murmured François, growing still paler.
At that moment the King was seized with such violent pains that he dropped his bridle, pressed both hands to his sides, and shrieked like a madman.
Henry hastily approached him, but by the time he had traversed the few hundred feet which separated them, Charles had recovered.
“Whence do you come, monsieur?” said the King, with a sternness that frightened Marguerite.
“Why, from the hunt, brother,” replied she.
“The hunt was along the river bank, and not in the forest.”
“My falcon swooped down on a pheasant just as we stopped behind every one to look at the heron.”
“Where is the pheasant?”
“Here; a beautiful bird, is it not?”
And Henry, in perfect innocence, held up his bird of purple, blue, and gold plumage.
“Ah!” said Charles, “and this pheasant caught, why did you not rejoin me?”
“Because the bird had directed its flight towards the park, sire, and when we returned to the river bank we saw you half a mile ahead of us, riding towards the forest. We set out to gallop after you, therefore, for being in your Majesty’s hunting-party we did not wish to lose you.”
“And were all these gentlemen invited also?” said Charles.
“What gentlemen?” asked Henry, casting an inquiring look about.
“Why, your Huguenots, by Heaven!” said Charles; “at all events if they were invited it was not by me.”
“No, sire,” replied Henry, “but possibly Monsieur d’Alençon asked them.”
“Monsieur d’Alençon? How so?”
“I?” said the duke.
“Why, yes, brother,” said Henry; “did you not announce yesterday that you were King of Navarre? The Huguenots who demanded you for their king have come to thank you for having accepted the crown, and the King for having given it. Is it not so, gentlemen?”
“Yes! yes!” cried twenty voices. “Long live the Duc d’Alençon! Long live King Charles!”
“I am not king of the Huguenots,” said François, white with anger; then, glancing stealthily at Charles, “and I sincerely trust I never shall be!”
“No matter!” said Charles, “but you must know, Henry, that I consider all this very strange.”
“Sire,” said the King of Navarre, firmly, “God forgive me, but one would say that I were undergoing an examination.”
“And if I should tell you that you were, what would you answer?”
“That I am a king like yourself, sire,” replied Henry, proudly, “for it is not the crown but birth that makes royalty, and that I would gladly answer any questions from my brother and my friend, but never from my judge.”
“And yet,” murmured Charles, “I should really like to know for once in my life how to act.”
“Let Monsieur de Mouy be brought out,” said D’Alençon, “and then you will know. Monsieur de Mouy must be among the prisoners.”
“Is Monsieur de Mouy here?” asked the King.
Henry felt a moment’s anxiety and exchanged glances with Marguerite; but his uneasiness was of short duration.
No voice replied.
“Monsieur de Mouy is not among the prisoners,” said Monsieur de Nancey; “some of our men think they saw him, but no one is sure of it.”
D’Alençon uttered an oath.
“Well!” said Marguerite, pointing to La Mole and Coconnas, who had heard all that had passed, and on whose intelligence she felt she could depend, “there are two gentlemen in the service of Monsieur d’Alençon; question them; they will answer.”
The duke felt the blow.
“I had them arrested on purpose to prove that they do not belong to me,” said he.
The King looked at the two friends and started on seeing La Mole again.
“Ah! that Provençal here?” said he.
Coconnas bowed graciously.
“What were you doing when you were arrested?” asked the King.
“Sire, we were planning deeds of war and of love.”
“On horseback, armed to the teeth, ready for flight!”
“No, sire,” said Coconnas; “your Majesty is misinformed. We were lying under the shade of a beech tree —sub tegmine fagi.”
“Ah! so you were lying under the shade of a beech tree?”
“And we might easily have escaped had we thought that in any way we had roused your Majesty’s anger. Now, gentlemen, on your honor as soldiers,” continued Coconnas, turning to the light-horse, “do you not think that had we so wished we could have escaped?”
“The fact is,” said the lieutenant, “that these gentlemen did not even attempt to run.”
“Because their horses were too far away,” said the Duc d’Alençon.
“I humbly beg monseigneur’s pardon,” said Coconnas; “but I was on mine, and my friend the Comte Lerac de la Mole was holding his by the bridle.”
“Is this true, gentlemen?” said the King.
“Yes, sire,” replied the lieutenant; “on seeing us Monsieur de Coconnas even dismounted.”
Coconnas smiled in a way which signified, “You see, sire!”
“But the other horses, the mules, and the boxes with which they were laden?” asked François.
“Well,” said Coconnas, “are we stable boys? Send for the groom who had charge of them.”
“He is not here,” exclaimed the duke, furious.
“Then he must have become frightened and run away,” said Coconnas; “one cannot expect a clown to have the manners of a gentleman.”
“Always the same system,” said D’Alençon, gnashing his teeth. “Fortunately, sire, I told you that for some time these gentlemen have not been in my service.”
“I!” exclaimed Coconnas, “am I unfortunate enough no longer to belong to your highness?”
“By Heaven! monsieur, you ought to know that better than any one, since you yourself gave me your dismissal, in a letter so impertinent that, thank God, I kept it, and fortunately have it with me.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Coconnas, “I had hoped that your highness would forgive me for a letter written under the first impulse of anger. I had been told that your highness had tried to strangle my friend La Mole in one of the corridors of the Louvre.”
“What is he saying?” interrupted the King.
“At first I thought your highness was alone,” continued Coconnas, ingenuously, “but afterwards I learned that three others”—
“Silence!” exclaimed Charles; “we have heard enough. Henry,” said he to the King of Navarre, “your word not to try to escape.”
“I give it to your Majesty, sire.”
“Return to Paris with Monsieur de Nancey, and remain in your chamber under arrest. You, gentlemen,” continued he, addressing the two friends, “give up your swords.”
La Mole looked at Marguerite. She smiled. La Mole at once handed his sword to the nearest officer. Coconnas did the same.
“Has Monsieur de Mouy been found?” asked the King.
“No, sire,” said Monsieur de Nancey; “either he was not in the forest or he escaped.”
“So much the worse,” said the King; “but let us return. I am cold and dizzy.”
“Sire, it is from anger, probably,” said François.
“Possibly; but my eyes trouble me. Where are the prisoners? I cannot see them. Is it night already? Oh! mercy! I am burning up! Help! Help!”
The unfortunate King dropped the bridle of his horse, stretched out his arms, and fell backward. The courtiers, frightened at this second attack, caught him as he fell.
François, standing apart, wiped the perspiration from his brow, for he alone knew the cause of the trouble from which his brother was suffering.
On the other side the King of Navarre, already under the guard of Monsieur de Nancey, looked upon the scene with growing astonishment.
“Well! well!” murmured he, with that wonderful intuition which at times made him seem inspired, “was I perhaps fortunate in having been stopped in my flight?”
He glanced at Margot, whose great eyes, wide open with surprise, were looking first at him and then at the King.
This time Charles was unconscious. A litter was brought and he was laid on it. They covered him with a cloak, taken from the shoulders of one of the courtiers. The procession silently set out in the direction of Paris, whence that morning light-hearted conspirators and a happy King had started forth, and to which now a dying King was returning, surrounded by rebel prisoners.
Marguerite, who throughout all this had lost neither the control of her mind nor body, gave her husband a look of intelligence; then, passing so close to La Mole that the latter was able to catch the following two Greek words, she said:
“Me deide,” which meant, “Fear nothing.”
“What did she say?” asked Coconnas.
“She told me to fear nothing,” replied La Mole.
“So much the worse,” murmured the Piedmontese, “so much the worse; that means that it is not good for us to be here. Every time that word has been said to me in an encouraging tone I have either received a bullet or a sword-thrust in my body, or a flower pot on my head. ‘Fear nothing,’ whether in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or French, has always meant for me: ‘Take care!’”
“Forward, gentlemen!” said the lieutenant of the light-horse.
“Without being indiscreet, monsieur,” said Coconnas, “may we know where we are going?”
“To Vincennes, I think,” said the lieutenant.
“I would rather go elsewhere,” said Coconnas; “but one does not always go just where one wishes.”
On the way the King recovered consciousness and some strength.
At Nanterre he even wanted to ride, but this was not allowed.
“Summon Maître Ambroise Paré,” said Charles, on reaching the Louvre.
He descended from his litter, ascended the stairs, leaning on the arm of Tavannes, and entered his apartment, giving orders that no one be allowed to follow him.
Every one had noticed that he seemed very grave. During the journey he had been in a deep study, not addressing a word to any one, concerned neither with conspiracy nor conspirators. It was evident that he was occupied with his illness; a malady so sudden, so strange, so severe, some of the symptoms of which had been noticed in his brother François II. a short time before his death.
So the order to admit no one whomsoever to his rooms, except Maître Paré, caused no surprise. It was well known that the prince was a misanthrope. Charles entered his sleeping-room, seated himself in a folding-chair, and leaned his head against the cushions. Then reflecting that Maître Ambroise Paré might not be at home, and that there might be some delay before he saw him, he decided to employ the intervening time.
He clapped his hands, thus summoning a guard.
“Say to the King of Navarre that I wish to speak with him,” said Charles.
The man bowed and withdrew.
Just then Charles’s head fell back, a great weight seemed to oppress him; his ideas grew confused; it was as if a sort of bloody vapor were floating before his eyes; his mouth was dry, although he had already swallowed a whole carafe of water.
While he was in this drowsy state the door opened and Henry appeared. Monsieur de Nancey had followed him, but stopped in the antechamber.
The King of Navarre waited until the door was closed. Then he advanced.
“Sire,” said he, “you sent for me; I am here.”
The King started at the voice and mechanically extended his hand.
“Sire,” said Henry, letting his arms hang at his side, “your Majesty forgets that I am no longer your brother but your prisoner.”
“Ah! that is true,” said Charles. “Thank you for having reminded me of it. Moreover, it seems to me that when we last spoke together you promised to answer frankly what I might ask you.”
“I am ready to keep my word, sire. Ask your questions.”
The King poured some cold water into his hand and applied it to his forehead.
“Tell me, Henry, how much truth is there in the accusation brought against you by the Duc d’Alençon?”
“Only a little. It was Monsieur d’Alençon who was to have fled, and I who was to have accompanied him.”
“And why should you have gone with him? Are you dissatisfied with me, Henry?”
“No, sire; on the contrary, I have only praise for your majesty; and God, who reads our hearts, knows how deeply I love my brother and my King.”
“It seems to me,” said Charles, “that it is not natural to flee from those we love and who love us.”
“I was not fleeing from those who love me; I was fleeing from those who hate me. Will your Majesty permit me to speak openly?”
“Those who hate me, sire, are Monsieur d’Alençon and the queen mother.”
“As for Monsieur d’Alençon I will not answer; but the queen mother overwhelms you with attentions.”
“That is just why I mistrust her, sire. And I do well to do so.”
“Her, or those about her. You know, sire, that the misfortune of kings is not always that they are too little but that they are too well served.”
“Explain yourself; you promised to tell me everything.”
“Your Majesty will see that I will do so.”
“Your Majesty loves me, you have said.”
“I loved you before your treason, Henry.”
“Pretend that you still love me, sire.”
“If you love me you must want me to live, do you not?”
“I should be wretched were any harm to befall you.”
“Well, sire, twice your Majesty has just escaped being wretched.”
“Twice Providence has saved my life. It is true that the second time Providence assumed the features of your Majesty?”
“What form did it assume the first time?”
“That of a man who would be greatly surprised to see himself mistaken for Providence; I mean Réné. You, sire, saved me from steel.”
Charles frowned, for he remembered the night when he had taken Henry to the Rue des Barres.
“And Réné?” said he.
“Réné saved me from poison.”
“The deuce, Henriot, you have luck,” said the King, trying to smile. But a quick spasm of pain changed the effort into a nervous contraction of the lips. “That is not his profession.”
“Two miracles saved me, sire. A miracle of repentance on the part of the Florentine, and a miracle of goodness on your part. Well! I will confess to your Majesty that I am afraid Heaven will grow weary of working miracles, and I tried to run away, because of the proverb: ‘Heaven helps those who help themselves.’”
“Why did you not tell me this sooner, Henriot?”
“Had I uttered these words yesterday I should have been a denunciator.”
“To-day is different — I am accused and I am defending myself.”
“Are you sure of the first attempt, Henriot?”
“As sure as I am of the second.”
“And they tried to poison you?”
“With an opiate.”
“How could they poison you with an opiate?”
“Why, sire, ask Réné; poisoning is done with gloves”—
Charles frowned; then by degrees his brow cleared.
“Yes,” said he, as if speaking to himself. “It is the nature of wild creatures to flee from death. Why, then, should not knowledge do what instinct does?”
“Well, sire!” said Henry, “is your Majesty satisfied with my frankness, and do you believe that I have told you everything?”
“Yes, Henriot, and you are a good fellow. Do you think that those who hate you have grown weary, or will new attempts be made on your life?”
“Sire, every evening I am surprised to find myself still living.”
“It is because they know I love you, Henriot, that they wish to kill you. But do not worry. They shall be punished for their evil intentions. Meanwhile you are free.”
“Free to leave Paris, sire?” asked Henry.
“No; you well know that I cannot possibly do without you. In the name of a thousand devils! I must have some one here who loves me.”
“Then, sire, if your Majesty keep me with you, will you grant me a favor”—
“What is it?”
“Not to keep me as a friend, but as a prisoner. Yes; does not your Majesty see that it is your friendship for me that is my ruin?”
“Would you prefer my hatred?”
“Your apparent hatred, sire. It will save me. As soon as they think I am in disgrace they will be less anxious for my death.”
“Henriot,” said Charles, “I know neither what you desire, nor what object you seek; but if your wishes do not succeed, and if your object is not accomplished, I shall be greatly surprised.”
“I may, then, count on the severity of the King?”
“In that case I shall be less uneasy. Now what are your Majesty’s commands?”
“Return to your apartments, Henriot, I am in pain. I will see my dogs and then go to bed.”
“Sire,” said Henry, “your Majesty ought to send for a physician. Your trouble is perhaps more serious than you imagine.”
“I have sent for Maître Ambroise Paré, Henriot.”
“Then I shall retire more satisfied.”
“Upon my soul,” said the King, “I believe that of all my family you are the only one who really loves me.”
“Is this indeed your opinion, sire?”
“On the word of a gentleman.”
“Then commend me to Monsieur de Nancey as a man your deep anger may not allow to live a month. By this means you will have me many years to love you.”
“Monsieur de Nancey!” cried Charles.
The captain of the guards entered.
“I commit into your hands the most guilty man of my kingdom. You will answer for him with your life.”
Henry assumed an air of consternation, and followed Monsieur de Nancey.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49