One year had elapsed since the death of Charles IX. and the accession of his successor to the throne.
King Henry III., happily reigning by the grace of God and his mother Catharine, was attending a fine procession given in honor of Notre Dame de Cléry.
He had gone on foot with the queen, his wife, and all the court.
King Henry III. could well afford this little pastime, for no serious business occupied him for the moment. The King of Navarre was in Navarre, where he had so long desired to be, and where he was said to be very much taken up with a beautiful girl of the blood of the Montmorencies whom he called La Fosseuse. Marguerite was with him, sad and gloomy, finding in the beautiful mountains not distraction but a softening of the two greatest griefs of life — absence and death.
Paris was very quiet and the queen mother, really regent since her dear son Henry had been King, resided sometimes at the Louvre, sometimes at the Hôtel de Soissons, which occupied the site today covered by the Halle au Blé, of which nothing remains beyond the beautiful column which is still standing.
One evening when she was deeply engaged in studying the stars with Réné, of whose little act of treason she was still ignorant, and who had been reinstated in her favor after the false testimony he had so opportunely given at the trial of Coconnas and La Mole, she was informed that a man waited for her in her oratory with something to tell her of the greatest importance.
Hastily descending, the queen found the Sire de Maurevel.
“He is here!” cried the ancient captain of the guards, not giving Catharine time to address him, according to royal etiquette.
“What he?” demanded Catharine.
“Who but the King of Navarre, madame!”
“Here!” said Catharine, “here! He — Henry — And what has he come for, the madman?”
“If appearances are to be believed, he comes to see Madame de Sauve. That is all. If probabilities are to be considered, he comes to conspire against the King.”
“How do you know he is here?”
“Yesterday I saw him enter a house, and an instant later Madame de Sauve joined him there.”
“Are you sure it was he?”
“I waited until he came out, that is, part of the night. At three o’clock the two lovers appeared. The king led Madame de Sauve as far as the gate of the Louvre, where, thanks to the porter, who no doubt is in her pay, she was admitted without opposition, and the king returned, humming a tune, and with a step as free as if he were among his own mountains.”
“Where did he go then?”
“To the Rue de l’Arbre Sec, Hôtel de la Belle Étoile, the same inn in which the two sorcerers used to lodge whom your majesty had executed a year ago.”
“Why did you not come and tell me this at once?”
“Because I was not yet sure of my man.”
“Now I am certain.”
“Did you see him?”
“Yes. I hid in a wine merchant’s opposite. I saw him enter the same building as on the previous night. Then as Madame de Sauve was late he imprudently put his face against the window pane on the first floor, and I had no further doubt. Besides, a few minutes later Madame de Sauve came and again joined him.”
“Do you think that like last night they will remain until three o’clock in the morning?”
“It is probable.”
“Where is the house?”
“Near the Croix des Petits Champs, close to Saint Honoré.”
“Very good,” said Catharine. “Does Monsieur de Sauve know your handwriting?”
“Sit down, then, and write.”
Maurevel took a pen and obeyed.
“I am ready, madame,” said he.
“While the Baron de Sauve is on service at the Louvre the baroness is with one of her friends, in a house near the Croix des Petits Champs, close to Saint Honoré. The Baron de Sauve will know the house by a red cross on the wall.”
“Well?” said Maurevel.
“Make a copy of the letter,” said Catharine.
Maurevel obeyed in silence.
“Now,” said the queen, “have one of these letters taken by a clever man to the Baron de Sauve, and drop the other in the corridors of the Louvre.”
“I do not understand,” said Maurevel.
Catharine shrugged her shoulders.
“You do not understand that a husband who receives such a note will be angry?”
“But the King of Navarre never used to be angry, madame.”
“It is not always with a king as with a simple courtier. Besides, if De Sauve is not angry you can be so for him.”
“Yes. You can take four men or six, if necessary, put on a mask, break down the door, as if you had been sent by the baron, surprise the lovers in the midst of their tête à tête, and strike your blow in the name of the King. The next day the note dropped in the corridor of the Louvre, and picked up by some kind friend who already will have circulated the news, will prove that it was the husband who had avenged himself. Only by chance, the gallant happened to be King of Navarre; but who would have imagined that, when every one thought him at Pau.”
Maurevel looked at Catharine in admiration, bowed, and withdrew.
As Maurevel left the Hôtel de Soissons Madame de Sauve entered the small house near the Croix des Petits Champs.
Henry was waiting for her at the half-open door.
As soon as he saw her on the stairs, he said:
“You have not been followed, have you?”
“Why, no,” said Charlotte, “at least, not so far as I know.”
“I think I have been,” said Henry, “not only to-night but last evening as well.”
“Oh! my God!” said Charlotte, “you frighten me, sire! If this meeting between you and one of your old friends should bring any harm to you I should be inconsolable.”
“Do not worry, my love,” said the Béarnais, “we have three swordsmen watching in the darkness.”
“Three are very few, sire.”
“Three are enough when they are De Mouy, Saucourt, and Barthélemy.”
“Is De Mouy in Paris with you?”
“He dared to return to the capital? Has he, then, like you, some poor woman who is in love with him?”
“No, but he has an enemy whose death he has sworn to have. Nothing but hate, my dear, commits as many follies as love.”
“Thank you, sire.”
“Oh,” said Henry, “I do not refer to our present follies. I mean those of the past and the future. But do not let us discuss this; we have no time to lose.”
“You still plan to leave Paris?”
“Are your affairs which brought you back to Paris finished?”
“I came back only to see you.”
“Ventre saint gris! My love, that is true; but let us put aside such thoughts. I have still two or three hours in which to be happy; then farewell forever.”
“Ah! sire,” said Madame de Sauve, “nothing is forever except my love.”
Henry had just said that he had no time for discussion; therefore he did not discuss this point. He believed, or sceptic that he was, he pretended to believe.
As the King of Navarre had said, De Mouy and his two companions were hidden near by.
It was arranged that Henry should leave the small house at midnight instead of at three o’clock; that, as on the previous night, they would escort Madame de Sauve back to the Louvre, and from there they would go to the Rue de la Cerisaie, where Maurevel lived.
It was only during that day that De Mouy had been sure of his enemy’s whereabouts. The men had been on guard about an hour when they perceived a man, followed at a few feet by five others, who drew near to the door of the small house and tried several keys successively. De Mouy, concealed within the shelter of a neighboring door, made one bound from his hiding-place, and seized the man by the arm.
“One moment,” said he; “you cannot enter there.”
The man sprang back, and in doing so his hat fell off.
“De Mouy de Saint Phale!” he cried.
“Maurevel!” thundered the Huguenot, raising his sword. “I sought you, and you have come to me. Thanks!”
But his anger did not make him forget Henry, and turning to the window he whistled in the manner of the Béarnais shepherds.
“That will be enough,” said he to Saucourt. “Now, then, murderer!”
And he sprang towards Maurevel.
The latter had had time to draw a pistol from his belt.
“Ah! now,” said the King’s Slayer, aiming at the young man, “I think you are a dead man!”
He fired. De Mouy jumped to one side and the ball passed by without touching him.
“It is my turn now!” cried the young man.
And he dealt Maurevel such a violent thrust with his sword that, although the blade had to encounter his buff belt, the sharp point pierced this obstacle and sank into the flesh.
The assassin gave a terrible cry of pain; whereupon the soldiers with him, thinking he was killed, fled in alarm down the Rue Saint Honoré.
Maurevel was not brave. Seeing himself abandoned by his followers, and having to face an adversary like De Mouy, he strove to escape, and ran after the guard, shouting, “help! help!”
De Mouy, Saucourt, and Barthélemy, carried away by their ardor, pursued him. As they entered the Rue de Grenelle, which they had taken as a short cut, a window opened and a man sprang out from the first floor, landing on the ground lately wet by the rain.
It was Henry.
De Mouy’s whistle had warned him of some danger and the pistol-shot had showed him that the danger was great, and had drawn him to the aid of his friends.
Energetic and vigorous, he dashed after them, sword in hand.
A cry guided him; it came from the Barrier des Sergents. It was Maurevel, who being hard pressed by De Mouy was calling a second time for help from his men who had run away.
Maurevel had to turn or be run through the back; he turned, therefore, and, meeting his enemy’s steel, gave him back so skilful a thrust that the scarf of the latter was cut through. But De Mouy at once lunged. The sword again sank into the flesh it had already broken, and a second jet of blood spurted from a second wound.
“At him!” cried Henry, coming up. “Quick, quick, De Mouy!”
De Mouy needed no encouragement.
Again he charged at Maurevel; but the latter had not waited.
Pressing his left hand over his wound, he again took to flight.
“Kill him! Quick! Kill him!” cried the king, “here are the soldiers, and the despair of cowards is of no moment to the brave.”
Maurevel, who was well nigh exhausted, whose every breath caused a bloody perspiration, fell down; but almost immediately he rose again, and turning on one knee presented the point of his sword to De Mouy.
“Friends! Friends!” cried Maurevel. “There are only two. Fire at them! Fire!”
Saucourt and Barthélemy had gone in pursuit of the other soldiers, down the Rue des Poulies, and the king and De Mouy were alone with the four men.
“Fire!” cried Maurevel again, while one of the soldiers levelled his gun.
“Yes, but first,” said De Mouy, “die, traitor, murderer, assassin!” and seizing Maurevel’s sword with one hand, with the other he plunged his own up to its hilt into the breast of his enemy, with such force that he nailed him to the earth.
“Take care! Take care!” cried Henry.
De Mouy sprang back, leaving his sword in Maurevel’s body, just as a soldier was in the act of firing at him.
Henry at once passed his sword through the body of the soldier, who gave a cry and fell by the side of Maurevel.
The two others took to flight.
“Come, De Mouy, come!” cried Henry, “let us not lose an instant; if we are recognized it will be all over with us.”
“Wait, sire. Do you suppose I want to leave my sword in the body of this wretch?” and De Mouy approached Maurevel, who lay apparently without sign of life.
But just as he took hold of his sword, which was run through Maurevel’s body, the latter raised himself, and with the gun the soldier had dropped fired directly at De Mouy’s breast.
The young man fell without a cry. He was killed outright.
Henry rushed at Maurevel, but the latter had fallen again, and the king’s sword pierced only a dead body.
It was necessary to flee. The noise had attracted a large number of persons; the night watch might arrive at any moment. Henry looked around to see if there was any face he knew, and gave a cry of delight on recognizing La Hurière.
As the scene had occurred at the foot of the Croix du Trahoir, that is, opposite the Rue de l’Arbre Sec, our old friend, whose naturally gloomy disposition had been still further saddened since the death of La Mole and Coconnas, his two favorite lodgers, had left his furnaces and his pans in the midst of his preparations for the King of Navarre’s supper, and had run to the fight.
“My dear La Hurière, I commend De Mouy to your care, although I greatly fear nothing can be done for him. Take him to your inn, and if he still live, spare nothing. Here is my purse. As to the other, leave him in the gutter, that he may die like a dog.”
“And yourself?” said La Hurière.
“I have a farewell to make. I must hasten, but in ten minutes I shall be with you. Have my horses ready.”
Henry immediately set out towards the Croix des Petits Champs; but as he turned from the Rue de Grenelle he stopped in terror.
A large crowd was before the door.
“What is the matter?” asked Henry. “What is going on in the house?”
“Oh!” answered the man addressed, “a terrible affair, monsieur. A beautiful young woman has just been stabbed by her husband, to whom a note had been given informing him that his wife was here with her lover.”
“And the husband?” cried Henry.
“And the wife?”
“She is in the house.”
“Not yet, but, thank God, there is scarcely any hope.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Henry, “I am accursed indeed!” and he rushed into the house.
The room was full of people standing around a bed on which lay poor Charlotte, who had been stabbed twice.
Her husband, who had hidden his jealousy for two years, had seized this opportunity to avenge himself on her.
“Charlotte! Charlotte!” cried Henry, pushing through the crowd and falling on his knees before the bed.
Charlotte opened her beautiful eyes, already veiled by death, and uttered a cry which caused the blood to flow afresh from her two wounds. Making an effort to rise, she said:
“Oh! I well knew I could not die without seeing you again!”
And as if she had waited only for that moment to return to Henry the soul he had so loved, she pressed her lips to the King’s forehead, again whispered for a last time, “I love you!” and fell back dead.
Henry could not remain longer without risking his own life. He drew his dagger, cut a lock of the beautiful blonde hair which he had so often loosened that he might admire its length, and went out sobbing, in the midst of the tears of all present, who did not doubt but that they were weeping for persons of high degree.
“Friend! mistress!” cried Henry in despair —“all forsake me, all leave me, all fail me at once!”
“Yes, sire,” said a man in a low tone, who had left the group in front of the house, and who had followed Henry; “but you still have the throne!”
“Réné!” exclaimed Henry.
“Yes, sire, Réné, who is watching over you. That scoundrel Maurevel uttered your name as he died. It is known you are in Paris; the archers are hunting for you. Flee! Flee!”
“And you say that I shall be King, Réné? I, a fugitive?”
“Look, sire,” said the Florentine, pointing to a brilliant star, which appeared from behind the folds of a black cloud, “it is not I who say so, but the star!”
Henry heaved a sigh, and disappeared in the darkness.
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07