The day after that on which Catharine had written this letter the governor entered Coconnas’s cell with an imposing retinue consisting of two halberdiers and four men in black gowns.
Coconnas was asked to descend to a room in which the Attorney Laguesle and two judges waited to question him according to Catharine’s instructions.
During the week he had spent in prison Coconnas had reflected a great deal. Besides that, he and La Mole were together for a few minutes each day, through the kindness of their jailer, who, without saying anything to them, had arranged this surprise, which in all probability they did not owe to his philosophy alone — besides, we say, La Mole and he had agreed on the course they were to pursue, which was to persist in absolute denial; and they were persuaded that with a little skill the affair would take a more favorable turn; the charges were no greater against them than against the others. Henry and Marguerite had made no attempt at flight; they could not therefore be compromised in an affair in which the chief ring-leaders were free. Coconnas did not know that Henry was in the prison, and the complaisance of the jailer told him that above his head hovered a certain protection which he called the invisible bucklers.
Up to then the examination had been confined to the intentions of the King of Navarre, his plans of flight, and the part the two friends had played in them. To all these questions Coconnas had constantly replied in a way more than vague and much more than adroit; he was ready still to reply in the same way, and had prepared in advance all his little repartees, when he suddenly found the object of the examination was altered. It turned upon one or more visits to Réné, one or more waxen figures made at the instigation of La Mole.
Prepared as he was, Coconnas believed that the accusation lost much of its intensity, since it was no longer a question of having betrayed a king but of having made a figure of a queen; and this figure not more than ten inches high at the most. He, therefore, replied brightly that neither he nor his friend had played with a doll for some time, and noticed with pleasure that several times his answers made the judges smile.
It had not yet been said in verse: “I have laughed, therefore am I disarmed,” but it had been said a great deal in prose. And Coconnas thought that he had partly disarmed his judges because they had smiled.
His examination over, he went back to his cell, singing so merrily that La Mole, for whom he was making all the noise, drew from it the happiest auguries.
La Mole was brought down, and like Coconnas saw with astonishment that the accusation had abandoned its first ground and had entered a new field. He was questioned as to his visits to Réné. He replied that he had gone to the Florentine only once. Then, if he had not ordered a waxen figure. He replied that Réné had showed him such a figure ready made. He was then asked if this figure did not represent a man. He replied that it represented a woman. Then, if the object of the charm was not to cause the death of the man. He replied that the purpose of the charm was to cause himself to be beloved by the woman.
These questions were put in a hundred different forms, but La Mole always replied in the same way. The judges looked at one another with a certain indecision, not knowing what to say or do before such simplicity, when a note brought to the Attorney–General solved the difficulty.
“If the accused denies resort to the torture.
The attorney put the note into his pocket, smiled at La Mole, and politely dismissed him.
La Mole returned to his cell almost as reassured, if not as joyous, as Coconnas.
“I think everything is going well,” said he.
An hour later he heard footsteps and saw a note slipped under his door, without seeing the hand that did it. He took it up, thinking that in all probability it came from the jailer?
Seeing it, a hope almost as acute as a disappointment sprang into his heart; he hoped it was from Marguerite, from whom he had had no news since he had been a prisoner.
He took it up with trembling hand, and almost died of joy as he looked at the handwriting.
“Courage!” said the note. “I am watching over you.”
“Ah! if she is watching,” cried La Mole, covering with kisses the paper which had touched a hand so dear, “if she is watching, I am saved.”
In order for La Mole to comprehend the note and rely with Coconnas on what the Piedmontese called his invisible bucklers it is necessary for us to conduct the reader to that small house, to that chamber in which the reminders of so many scenes of intoxicating happiness, so many half-evaporated perfumes, so many tender recollections, since become agonizing, were breaking the heart of a woman half reclining on velvet cushions.
“To be a queen, to be strong, young, rich, beautiful, and suffer what I suffer!” cried this woman; “oh! it is impossible!”
Then in her agitation she rose, paced up and down, stopped suddenly, pressed her burning forehead against the ice-cold marble, rose pale, her face covered with tears, wrung her hands, and crying aloud fell back again hopeless into a chair.
Suddenly the tapestry which separated the apartment of the Rue Cloche Percée from that in the Rue Tizon was raised, and the Duchesse de Nevers entered.
“Ah!” exclaimed Marguerite, “is it you? With what impatience I have waited for you! Well! What news?”
“Bad news, my poor friend. Catharine herself is hurrying on the trial, and at present is at Vincennes.”
“Before you were able to speak to him?”
“And our prisoners?”
“I have news of them.”
“From the jailer?”
“Well! They see each other every day. The day before yesterday they were searched. La Mole broke your picture to atoms rather than give it up.”
“Dear La Mole!”
“Annibal laughed in the face of the inquisitors.”
“Worthy Annibal! What then?”
“This morning they were questioned as to the flight of the king, his projects of rebellion in Navarre, and they said nothing.”
“Oh! I knew they would keep silence; but silence will kill them as much as if they spoke.”
“Yes, but we must save them.”
“Have you thought over our plan?”
“Since yesterday I have thought of nothing else.”
“I have just come to terms with Beaulieu. Ah! my dear queen, what a hard and greedy man! It will cost a man’s life, and three hundred thousand crowns.”
“You say he is hard and greedy — and yet he asks only the life of a man and three hundred thousand crowns. Why, that is nothing!”
“Nothing! Three hundred thousand crowns! Why, all your jewels and all mine would not be enough.”
“Oh! that is nothing. The King of Navarre will pay something, the Duc d’Alençon will pay part, and my brother Charles will pay part, or if not”—
“See! what nonsense you talk. I have the money.”
“How did you get it?”
“Ah! that is telling!”
“Is it a secret?”
“For every one except you.”
“Oh, my God!” said Marguerite, smiling through her tears, “did you steal it?”
“You shall judge.”
“Well, let me.”
“Do you remember that horrible Nantouillet?”
“The rich man, the usurer?”
“If you please.”
“Well! One day seeing a certain blonde lady, with greenish eyes, pass by, wearing three rubies, one over her forehead, the other two over her temples, an arrangement which was very becoming to her, this rich man, this usurer, cried out:
“‘For three kisses in the place of those three rubies I will give you three diamonds worth one hundred thousand crowns apiece!’”
“Well, my dear, the diamonds appeared and are sold.”
“Oh, Henriette! Henriette!” cried Marguerite.
“Well!” exclaimed the duchess in a bold tone at once innocent and sublime, which sums up the age and the woman, “well, I love Annibal!”
“That is true,” said Marguerite, smiling and blushing at the same time, “you love him a very great deal, too much, perhaps.”
And yet she pressed her friend’s hand.
“So,” continued Henriette, “thanks to our three diamonds, the three hundred thousand crowns and the man are ready.”
“The man? What man?”
“The man to be killed; you forget a man must be killed.”
“Have you found the necessary man?”
“At the same price?” asked Marguerite, smiling.
“At the same price I could have found a thousand,” replied Henriette, “no, no, for five hundred crowns.”
“For five hundred crowns you have found a man who has consented to be killed?”
“What can you expect? It is necessary for us to live.”
“My dear friend, I do not understand you. Come, explain. Enigmas require too much time to guess at such a moment as this.”
“Well, listen; the jailer to whom the keeping of La Mole and Coconnas is entrusted is an old soldier who knows what a wound is. He would like to help save our friends, but he does not want to lose his place. A blow of a dagger skilfully aimed will end the affair. We will give him a reward and the kingdom, indemnification. In this way the brave man will receive money from both parties and will renew the fable of the pelican.”
“But,” said Marguerite, “a thrust of a dagger”—
“Do not worry; Annibal will give it.”
“Well,” said Marguerite, “he has given as many as three blows of his sword to La Mole, and La Mole is not dead; there is therefore every reason to hope.”
“Wicked woman! You deserve to have me stop.”
“Oh! no, no; on the contrary, tell me the rest, I beg you. How are we to save them; come!”
“Well, this is the plan. The chapel is the only place in the castle where women can enter who are not prisoners. We are to be hidden behind the altar. Under the altar cloth they will find two daggers. The door of the vestry-room will be opened beforehand. Coconnas will strike the jailer, who will fall and pretend to be dead; we appear; each of us throws a cloak over the shoulders of her friend; we run with them through the small doors of the vestry-room, and as we have the password we can leave without hindrance.”
“And once out?”
“Two horses will be waiting at the door; the men will spring on them, leave France, and reach Lorraine, whence now and then they will return incognito.”
“Oh! you restore me to life,” said Marguerite. “So we shall save them?”
“I am almost sure of it.”
“In three or four days. Beaulieu is to let us know.”
“But if you were recognized in the vicinity of Vincennes that might upset our plan.”
“How could any one recognize me? I go there as a nun, with a hood, thanks to which not even the tip of my nose is visible.”
“We cannot take too many precautions.”
“I know that well enough, by Heaven! as poor Annibal would say.”
“Did you hear anything about the King of Navarre?”
“I was careful to ask.”
“Well, he has never been so happy, apparently; he laughs, sings, eats, drinks, and sleeps well, and asks only one thing, and that is to be well guarded.”
“He is right. And my mother?”
“I told you she is hurrying on the trial as fast as she can.”
“Yes, but does she suspect anything about us?”
“How could she? Every one who has a secret is anxious to keep it. Ah! I know that she told the judges in Paris to be in readiness.”
“Let us act quickly, Henriette. If our poor prisoners change their abode, everything will have to be done over again.”
“Do not worry. I am as anxious as you to see them free.”
“Oh, yes, I know that, and thank you, thank you a hundred times for all you have done.”
“Adieu, Marguerite. I am going into the country again.”
“Are you sure of Beaulieu?”
“I think so.”
“Of the jailer?”
“He has promised.”
“Of the horses?”
“They will be the best in the stables of the Duc de Nevers.”
“I adore you, Henriette.”
And Marguerite threw her arms about her friend’s neck, after which the two women separated, promising to see each other again the next day, and every day, at the same place and hour.
These were the two charming and devoted creatures whom Coconnas, with so much reason, called his invisible bucklers.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53