For a week Charles was confined to his bed by a slow fever, interrupted by violent attacks which resembled epileptic fits. During these attacks he uttered shrieks which the guards, watching in his chamber, heard with terror, and the echoes of which reached to the farthest corner of the old Louvre, aroused so often by many a dreadful sound. Then, when these attacks passed, Charles, completely exhausted, sank back with closed eyes into the arms of his nurse.
To say that, each in his way, without communicating the feeling to the other, for mother and son sought to avoid rather than to see each other, to say that Catharine de Médicis and the Duc d’Alençon revolved sinister thoughts in the depths of their hearts would be to say that in that nest of vipers moved a hideous swarm.
Henry was shut up in his chamber in the prison; and at his own request no one had been allowed to see him, not even Marguerite. In the eyes of every one his imprisonment was an open disgrace. Catharine and D’Alençon, thinking him lost, breathed once more, and Henry ate and drank more calmly, hoping that he was forgotten.
At court no one suspected the cause of the King’s illness. Maître Ambroise Paré and Mazille, his colleague, thought it was inflammation of the bowels, and had prescribed a regimen which aided the special drink given by Réné. Charles received this, his only nourishment, three times a day from the hands of his nurse.
La Mole and Coconnas were at Vincennes in closest confinement. Marguerite and Madame de Nevers had made a dozen attempts to reach them, or at least to send them a note, but without success. One morning Charles felt somewhat better, and wished the court to assemble. This was the usual custom in the morning, although for some time no levee had taken place. The doors were accordingly thrown open, and it was easy to see, from his pale cheeks, yellow forehead, and the feverish light in his deep-sunken eyes, which were surrounded by dark circles, what frightful ravages the unknown disease had made on the young monarch.
The royal chamber was soon filled with curious and interested courtiers. Catharine, D’Alençon, and Marguerite had been informed that the King was to hold an audience. Therefore all three entered, at short intervals, one by one; Catharine calm, D’Alençon smiling, Marguerite dejected. Catharine seated herself by the side of the bed without noticing the look that Charles gave her as he saw her approach.
Monsieur d’Alençon stood at the foot.
Marguerite leaned against a table, and seeing the pale brow, the worn features, and deep-sunken eyes of her brother, could not repress a sigh and a tear.
Charles, whom nothing escaped, saw the tear and heard the sigh, and with his head made a slight motion to Marguerite.
This sign, slight as it was, lighted the face of the poor Queen of Navarre, to whom Henry had not had time or perhaps had not wished to say anything.
She feared for her husband, she trembled for her lover. For herself she had no fear; she knew La Mole well, and felt she could rely on him.
“Well, my dear son,” said Catharine, “how do you feel?”
“Better, mother, better.”
“What do your physicians say?”
“My physicians? They are clever doctors, mother,” said Charles, bursting into a laugh. “I take great pleasure, I admit, in hearing them discuss my malady. Nurse, give me something to drink.”
The nurse brought Charles a cup of his usual beverage.
“What do they order you to take, my son?”
“Oh! madame, who knows anything about their preparations?” said the King, hastily swallowing the drink.
“What my brother needs,” said François, “is to rise and get out into the open air; hunting, of which he is so fond, would do him a great deal of good.”
“Yes,” said Charles, with a smile, the meaning of which it was impossible for the duke to understand, “and yet the last hunt did me great harm.”
Charles uttered these words in such a strange way that the conversation, in which the others present had not taken part, stopped. Then the King gave a slight nod of his head. The courtiers understood that the audience was over, and withdrew one after another.
D’Alençon started to approach his brother, but some secret feeling stopped him. He bowed and went out.
Marguerite seized the wasted hand her brother held out to her, pressed it, and kissed it. Then she, in turn, withdrew.
“Dear Margot!” murmured Charles.
Catharine alone remained, keeping her place at the side of the bed. Finding himself alone with her, Charles recoiled as if from a serpent.
Instructed by the words of Réné, perhaps still better by silence and meditation, Charles no longer had even the happiness of doubt.
He knew perfectly to whom and to what to attribute his approaching death.
So, when Catharine drew near to the bed and extended to him a hand as cold as his glance, the King shuddered in fear.
“You have remained, madame?” said he.
“Yes, my son,” replied Catharine, “I must speak to you on important matters.”
“Speak, madame,” said Charles, again recoiling.
“Sire!” said the queen, “you said just now that your physicians were great doctors!”
“And I say so again, madame.”
“Yet what have they done during your illness?”
“Nothing, it is true — but if you had heard what they said — really, madame, one might afford to be ill if only to listen to their learned discussions.”
“Well, my son, do you want me to tell you something?”
“What is it, mother?”
“I suspect that all these clever doctors know nothing whatever about your malady.”
“They may, perhaps, see a result, but they are ignorant of the cause.”
“That is possible,” said Charles, not understanding what his mother was aiming at.
“So that they treat the symptoms and not the ill itself.”
“On my soul!” said Charles, astonished, “I believe you are right, mother.”
“Well, my son,” said Catharine, “as it is good neither for my happiness nor the welfare of the kingdom for you to be ill so long, and as your mind might end by becoming affected, I assembled the most skilful doctors.”
“In the science of medicine, madame?”
“No, in a more profound science: that which helps not only the body but the mind as well.”
“Ah! a beautiful science, madame,” said Charles, “and one which the doctors are right in not teaching to crowned heads! Have your researches had any result?” he continued.
“What was it?”
“That which I hoped for; I bring to your Majesty that which will cure not only your body but your mind.”
Charles shuddered. He thought that finding that he was still living his mother had resolved to finish knowingly that which she had begun unconsciously.
“Where is this remedy?” said he, rising on his elbow and looking at his mother.
“In the disease itself,” replied Catharine.
“Then where is that?”
“Listen to me, my son,” said Catharine, “have you not sometimes heard it said that there are secret enemies who in their revenge assassinate their victim from a distance?”
“By steel or poison?” asked Charles, without once turning his eyes from the impassible face of his mother.
“No, by a surer and much more terrible means,” said Catharine.
“My son,” asked the Florentine, “do you believe in charms and magic?”
Charles repressed a smile of scorn and incredulity.
“Fully,” said he.
“Well,” said Catharine, quickly, “from magic comes all your suffering. An enemy of your Majesty who would not have dared to attack you openly has conspired in secret. He has directed against your Majesty a conspiracy much more terrible in that he has no accomplices, and the mysterious threads of which cannot be traced.”
“Faith, no!” said Charles, aghast at such cunning.
“Think well, my son,” said Catharine, “and recall to mind certain plans for flight which would have assured impunity to the murderer.”
“To the murderer!” cried Charles. “To the murderer, you say? Has there been an attempt to kill me, mother?”
Catharine’s changing eye rolled hypocritically under its wrinkled lid.
“Yes, my son; you doubt it, perhaps, but I know it for a certainty.”
“I never doubt what you tell me, mother,” replied the King, bitterly. “How was the attempt made? I am anxious to know.”
“Explain yourself, madame,” said Charles, recalled by his loathing to his rôle of observer.
“If the conspirator I mean, and one whom at heart your Majesty already suspects, had succeeded in his plans, no one would have fathomed the cause of your Majesty’s sufferings. Fortunately, however, sire, your brother watched over you.”
“Ah! yes, that is true; I always forget that I have a brother,” murmured Charles, laughing bitterly; “so you say, madame”—
“That fortunately he revealed the conspiracy. But while he, inexperienced child that he is, sought only the traces of an ordinary plot, the proofs of a young man’s escapade, I sought for proofs of a much more important deed; for I understand the reach of the guilty one’s mind.”
“Ah! mother, one would say you were speaking of the King of Navarre,” said Charles, anxious to see how far this Florentine dissimulation would go.
Catharine hypocritically dropped her eyes.
“I have had him arrested and taken to Vincennes for his escapade,” continued the King; “is he more guilty than I suspected, then?”
“Do you feel the fever that consumes you?” asked Catharine.
“Yes, certainly, madame,” said Charles, frowning.
“Do you feel the fire that burns you internally?”
“Yes, madame,” replied Charles, his brow darkening more and more.
“And the sharp pains in your head, which shoot from your eyes to your brain like so many arrows?”
“Yes, madame. I feel all that. You describe my trouble perfectly!”
“Well! the explanation is very simple,” said the Florentine. “See.”
And she drew from under her cloak an object which she gave to the King.
It was a figure of yellow wax, about six inches high, clothed in a robe covered with golden stars also of wax, like the figure; and over this a royal mantle of the same material.
“Well,” asked Charles, “what is this little statue?”
“See what it has on its head,” said Catharine.
“A crown,” replied Charles.
“And in the heart?”
“Well, sire, do you recognize yourself?”
“Yes, you, with your crown and mantle?”
“Who made this figure?” asked Charles, whom this farce was beginning to weary; “the King of Navarre, no doubt?”
“No? then I do not understand you.”
“I say no,” replied Catharine, “because you asked the question literally. I should have said yes had you put it differently.”
Charles made no answer. He was striving to penetrate all the thoughts of that shadowy mind, which constantly closed before him just as he thought himself ready to read it.
“Sire,” continued Catharine, “this statue was found by the Attorney–General Laguesle, in the apartment of the man who on the day you last went hawking led a horse for the King of Navarre.”
“Monsieur de la Mole?”
“Yes, and, if you please, look again at the needle in the heart, and see what letter is written on the label attached to it.”
“I see an ‘M,’” said Charles.
“That means mort, death; it is the magic formula, sire. The maker thus wrote his vow on the very wound he gave. Had he wished to make a pretence at killing, as did the Duc de Bretagne for King Charles VI., he would have driven the needle into the head and put an ‘F’ instead of an ‘M.’”
“So,” said Charles IX., “according to your idea, the person who seeks to end my days is Monsieur de la Mole?”
“Yes, he is the dagger; but behind the dagger is the hand that directs it.”
“This then is the sole cause of my illness? the day the charm is destroyed the malady will cease? But how go to work?” asked Charles, “you must know, mother; but I, unlike you, who have spent your whole life studying them, know nothing about charms and spells.”
“The death of the conspirator destroys the charm, that is all. The day the charm is destroyed your illness will cease,” said Catharine.
“Indeed!” said Charles, with an air of surprise.
“Did you not know that?”
“Why! I am no sorcerer,” said the King.
“Well, now,” said Catharine, “your Majesty is convinced, are you not?”
“Conviction has dispelled anxiety?”
“You do not say so out of complaisance?”
“No, mother! I say it from the bottom of my heart.”
Catharine’s face broke into smiles.
“Thank God!” she exclaimed, as if she believed in God.
“Yes, thank God!” repeated Charles, ironically; “I know now, as you do, to whom to attribute my present condition, and consequently whom to punish.”
“And you will punish”—
“Monsieur de la Mole; did you not say that he was the guilty party?”
“I said that he was the instrument.”
“Well,” said Charles, “Monsieur de la Mole first; he is the most important. All these attacks on me might arouse dangerous suspicions. It is imperative that there be some light thrown on the matter and from this light the truth may be discovered.”
“So Monsieur de la Mole”—
“Suits me admirably as the guilty one; therefore I accept him. We will begin with him; and if he has an accomplice, he shall speak.”
“Yes,” murmured Catharine, “and if he does not, we will make him. We have infallible means for that.”
“Will you permit the trial to begin, sire?”
“I desire it, madame,” replied Charles, “and the sooner the better.”
Catharine pressed the hand of her son without comprehending the nervous grasp with which he returned it, and left the apartment without hearing the sardonic laugh of the King, or the terrible oath which followed the laugh.
Charles wondered if it were not dangerous to let this woman go thus, for in a few hours she would have done so much that there would be no way of stopping it.
As he watched the curtain fall after Catharine, he heard a light rustle behind him, and turning he perceived Marguerite, who raised the drapery before the corridor leading to his nurse’s rooms.
Marguerite’s pallor, her haggard eyes and oppressed breathing betrayed the most violent emotion.
“Oh, sire! sire!” she exclaimed, rushing to her brother’s bedside; “you know that she lies.”
“She? Who?” asked Charles.
“Listen, Charles, it is a terrible thing to accuse one’s mother; but I suspected that she remained with you to persecute them again. But, on my life, on yours, on our souls, I tell you what she says is false!”
“To persecute them! Whom is she persecuting?”
Both had instinctively lowered their voices; it seemed as if they themselves feared even to hear them.
“Henry, in the first place; your Henriot, who loves you, who is more devoted to you than any one else.”
“You think so, Margot?” said Charles.
“Oh! sire, I am sure of it.”
“Well, so am I,” said Charles.
“Then if you are sure of it, brother,” said Marguerite, surprised, “why did you have him arrested and taken to Vincennes?”
“Because he asked me to do so.”
“He asked you, sire?”
“Yes, Henriot has singular ideas. Perhaps he is wrong, perhaps right; at any rate, one of his ideas was that he would be safer in disgrace than in favor, away from me at Vincennes instead of near me in the Louvre.”
“Ah! I see,” said Marguerite, “and is he safe there?”
“As safe as a man can be whose head Beaulieu answers for with his own.”
“Oh! thank you, brother! so much for Henry. But”—
“There is another, sire, in whom perhaps I am wrong to be interested, but”—
“Who is it?”
“Sire, spare me. I would scarcely dare name him to my brother, much less to my King.”
“Monsieur de la Mole, is it not?” said Charles.
“Alas!” said Marguerite, “you tried to kill him once, sire, and he escaped from your royal vengeance only by a miracle.”
“He was guilty of only one crime then, Marguerite; now he has committed two.”
“Sire, he is not guilty of the second.”
“But,” said Charles, “did you not hear what our good mother said, my poor Margot?”
“Oh, I have already told you, Charles,” said Marguerite, lowering her voice, “that what she said was false.”
“You do not know perhaps that a waxen figure has been found in Monsieur de la Mole’s rooms?”
“Yes, yes, brother, I know it.”
“That this figure is pierced to the heart by a needle, and that it bears a tag with an ‘M’ on it?”
“I know that, too.”
“And that over the shoulders of the figure is a royal mantle, and that on its head is a royal crown?”
“I know all that.”
“Well! what have you to say to it?”
“This: that the figure with a royal cloak and a crown on its head is that of a woman, and not that of a man.”
“Bah!” said Charles, “and the needle in its heart?”
“Was a charm to make himself beloved by this woman, and not a charm to kill a man.”
“But the letter ‘M’?”
“It does not mean mort, as the queen mother said.”
“What does it mean, then?” asked Charles.
“It means — it means the name of the woman whom Monsieur de la Mole loves.”
“And what is the name of this woman?”
“Marguerite, brother!” cried the Queen of Navarre, falling on her knees before the King’s bed, taking his hand between both of hers, and pressing her face to it, bathed in tears.
“Hush, sister!” said Charles, casting a sharp glance about him beneath his frowning brow. “For just as you overheard a moment ago, we may now be overheard again.”
“What does it matter?” exclaimed Marguerite, raising her head, “if the whole world were present to hear me, I would declare before it that it is infamous to abuse the love of a gentleman by staining his reputation with a suspicion of murder.”
“Margot, suppose I were to tell you that I know as well as you do who it is and who it is not?”
“Suppose I were to tell you that Monsieur de la Mole is innocent?”
“You know this?”
“If I were to tell you that I know the real author of the crime?”
“The real author!” cried Marguerite; “has there been a crime committed, then?”
“Yes; intentionally or unintentionally there has been a crime committed.”
“Impossible? Look at me, Margot.”
The young woman looked at her brother and trembled, seeing him so pale.
“Margot, I have not three months to live!” said Charles.
“You, brother! you, Charles!” she cried.
“Margot, I am poisoned.”
“Hush,” said Charles. “It must be thought that I am dying by magic.”
“Do you know who is guilty?”
“You said it was not La Mole?”
“No, it is not he.”
“Nor Henry either, surely — great God! could it be”—
“My brother — D’Alençon?” murmured Marguerite.
“Or — or”— Marguerite lowered her voice as if frightened at what she was going to say, “or — our mother?”
Charles was silent.
Marguerite looked at him, and read all that she asked in his eyes. Then still on her knees she half fell over against a chair.
“Oh! my God! my God!” she whispered, “that is impossible.”
“Impossible?” said Charles, with a strident laugh, “it is a pity Réné is not here to tell you the story.”
“Yes; he would tell you that a woman to whom he dares refuse nothing asked him for a book on hunting which was in his library; that a subtle poison was poured on every page of this book; that the poison intended for some one, I know not for whom, fell by a turn of chance, or by a punishment of Heaven, on another. But in the absence of Réné if you wish to see the book it is there in my closet, and written in the Florentine’s handwriting you will see that this volume, which still contains the death of many among its pages, was given by him to his fellow countrywoman.”
“Hush, Charles, hush!” said Marguerite.
“Now you see that it must be supposed that I die of magic.”
“But it is monstrous, monstrous! Pity! Pity! you know he is innocent.”
“Yes, I know it, but he must be thought guilty. Let your lover die; it is very little to do in order to save the honor of the house of France; I myself shall die that the secret may die with me.”
Marguerite bent her head, realizing that nothing could be obtained from the King towards saving La Mole, and withdrew weeping, having no hope except in her own resources.
Meantime Catharine, as Charles had divined, had lost not a minute, but had written to the Attorney–General Laguesle a letter, every word of which has been preserved by history and which throws a lurid light upon the drama:
“Monsieur le Procureur: I have this evening been informed beyond a doubt that La Mole has committed sacrilege. Many evil things such as books and papers have been found in his apartments in Paris. I beg you to summon the chief president, and to inform him as early as possible of the affair of the waxen figure meant for the King, and which was pierced to the heart.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53