The King, beginning to grow impatient, had summoned Monsieur de Nancey to his room, and had just given him orders to go in search of Henry, when the latter appeared.
On seeing his brother-inlaw at the door Charles uttered a cry of joy, but Henry stood motionless, as startled as if he had come face to face with a corpse.
The two physicians who were at the bedside and the priest who had been with Charles withdrew.
Charles was not loved, and yet many were weeping in the antechambers. At the death of kings, good or bad, there are always persons who lose something and who fear they will not find it again under the successor.
The mourning, the sobbing, the words of Catharine, the sinister and majestic surroundings of the last moments of a king, the sight of the King himself, suffering from a malady common enough afterwards, but which, at that time, was new to science, produced on Henry’s mind, which was still youthful and consequently still susceptible, such a terrible impression that in spite of his determination not to cause Charles fresh anxiety as to his condition, he could not as we have said repress the feeling of terror which came to his face on perceiving the dying man dripping with blood.
Charles smiled sadly. Nothing of those around them escapes the dying.
“Come, Henriot,” said he, extending his hand with a gentleness of voice Henry had never before noticed in him. “Come in; I have been very unhappy at not seeing you for so long. I have tormented you greatly during my life, my poor friend, and sometimes, believe me, I have reproached myself for it. Sometimes I have taken the hands of those who tormented you, it is true, but a king cannot control circumstances, and besides my mother Catharine, my brothers D’Anjou and D’Alençon, I had to consider during my lifetime something else which was troublesome and which ceases the moment I draw near to death — state policy.”
“Sire,” murmured Henry, “I remember only the love I have always had for my brother, the respect I have always felt for my King.”
“Yes, yes, you are right,” said Charles, “and I am grateful to you for saying this, Henriot, for truly you have suffered a great deal under my reign without counting the fact that it was during my reign that your poor mother died. But you must have seen that I was often driven? Sometimes I have resisted, but oftener I have yielded from very fatigue. But, as you said, let us not talk of the past. Now it is the present which concerns me; it is the future which frightens me.”
And the poor King hid his livid face in his emaciated hands.
After a moment’s silence he shook his head as if to drive away all gloomy thoughts, thus causing a shower of blood to fall about him.
“We must save the state,” he continued in a low tone, leaning towards Henry. “We must prevent its falling into the hands of fanatics or women.”
As we have just said, Charles uttered these words in a low tone, yet Henry thought he heard behind the headboard something like a dull exclamation of anger. Perhaps some opening made in the wall at the instigation of Charles himself permitted Catharine to hear this final conversation.
“Of women?” said the King of Navarre to provoke an explanation.
“Yes, Henry,” said Charles, “my mother wishes the regency until my brother returns from Poland. But mind what I tell you, he will not come back.”
“Why not?” cried Henry, whose heart gave a joyful leap.
“No, he cannot return,” continued Charles, “because his subjects will not let him leave.”
“But,” said Henry, “do you not suppose, brother, that the queen mother has already written to him?”
“Yes, but Nancey stopped the courier at Château Thierry, and brought me the letter, in which she said I was to die. I wrote to Varsovia myself, my letter reached there, I am sure, and my brother will be watched. So, in all probability, Henry, the throne will be vacant.”
A second sound louder than the first was heard in the alcove.
“She is surely there,” thought Henry, “and is listening.”
Charles heard nothing.
“Now,” he continued, “I am dying without male heir.” Then he stopped. A sweet thought seemed to light up his face, and, laying his hand on the King of Navarre’s shoulder:
“Alas!” said he, “do you remember, Henriot, the poor little boy I showed you one evening sleeping in his silken cradle, watched over by an angel? Alas! Henriot, they will kill him!”
“Oh, sire!” cried Henry, whose eyes filled with tears, “I swear to you that I will watch over him all the days and nights of my life. Command me, my King.”
“Thanks, Henriot, thanks!” said Charles, with a show of feeling unusual in him, but which the situation had roused, “I accept your promise. Do not make him a king — fortunately he was not born for a throne — but make him happy. I have left him an independent fortune. Let him inherit his mother’s nobility, that of the heart. Perhaps it would be better for him if he were to enter the church. He would inspire less fear. Oh! it seems to me that I should die, if not happy, at least calm, if I had the kisses of the child and the sweet face of its mother to console me.”
“Sire, could you not send for them?”
“Ah, poor wretches! They would never be allowed to leave the Louvre! Such is the condition of kings, Henriot. They can neither live nor die as they please. But since you promise I am more resigned.”
“Yes, no doubt, my King. I have promised, but can I keep my word?”
“What do you mean?”
“Shall I not be persecuted, and threatened like him, even more than him? For I am a man, and he is only a child.”
“You are mistaken,” said Charles; “after my death you shall be great and powerful. Here is what will make you so.”
And the King drew a parchment from under the pillow.
“See!” said he.
Henry glanced over the document sealed with the royal seal.
“The regency for me, sire!” said he, growing pale with joy.
“Yes, for you, until the return of the Duc d’Anjou, and as in all probability the duke will never return it is not the regency only but the throne that this gives you.”
“The throne!” murmured Henry.
“Yes,” said Charles, “you alone are worthy of it; you alone are capable of governing these debauched gallants, and these bold women who live by blood and tears. My brother D’Alençon is a traitor, and would deceive every one. Leave him in the prison in which I have placed him. My mother will try to kill you, therefore banish her. My brother D’Anjou in three or four months, perhaps in a year, will leave Varsovia and will come to dispute the throne with you. Answer him by a bull from the pope. I have already arranged that matter through my ambassador, the Duc de Nevers, and you will receive the document before long.”
“Oh, my King!”
“You have but one thing to fear, Henry — civil war; but by remaining converted you will avoid this, for the Huguenots are strong only when you put yourself at their head, and Monsieur de Condé is nothing when opposed to you. France is a country of plains, Henry, and consequently a Catholic country. The King of France ought to be the king of the Catholics and not the king of the Huguenots, for the King of France ought to be the king of the majority. It is said I feel remorse for the massacre of Saint Bartholomew; doubts, yes; remorse, no. It is said I am bleeding the blood of those Huguenots from every pore. I know what is flowing from me. It is arsenic and not blood.”
“What do you mean, sire?”
“Nothing. If my death must be avenged, Henriot, it must be avenged by God alone. Let us speak now of the future. I leave you a faithful parliament and a trusty army. Lean on them and they will protect you against your only enemies — my mother and the Duc d’Alençon.”
Just then the sound of arms and military commands were heard in the vestibule.
“I am dead!” murmured Henry.
“You fear? You hesitate?” said Charles, anxiously.
“I! sire,” replied Henry; “no, I do not fear, nor do I hesitate. I accept.”
Charles pressed Henry’s hand. At that moment the nurse approached with a drink she had been preparing in the adjoining room, not knowing that the fate of France was being decided three feet from her.
“Call my mother, nurse, and have Monsieur d’Alençon also summoned.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53