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Title: Old Court Life in France, vol. 1/2
Author: Elliot, Frances
Language: English
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                          _By Frances Elliot_


                       Old Court Life in France
                             _2 vols. 8º._

                        Old Court Life in Spain
                             _2 vols. 8º._

                            [Illustration]

                            [Illustration]



                               OLD COURT
                            LIFE IN FRANCE

                                  BY

                            FRANCES ELLIOT

             AUTHOR OF “DIARY OF AN IDLE WOMAN IN ITALY,”
                      “PICTURE OF OLD ROME,” ETC.

                            [Illustration]

                             _ILLUSTRATED_

                               VOLUME I.

                          G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
                          NEW YORK AND LONDON
                        The Knickerbocker Press

                          COPYRIGHT, 1893, BY
                          G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
                  Entered at Stationers’ Hall, London
                        BY G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

                 Made in the United States of America

                   The Knickerbocker Press, New York



                              TO MY NIECE

                         THE COUNTESS OF MINTO

                             THIS WORK IS
                               INSCRIBED



PREFACE

TO THE FIFTH EDITION.


I cannot express the satisfaction I feel at finding myself once more
addressing the great American public, which from the first has received
my works with such flattering favour.

I have taken special pleasure in the production of this new edition of
_Old Court Life in France_, which was first published in America some
twenty years ago, and which is, I trust, now entering into a new lease
of life.

That the same cordial welcome may follow the present edition, which was
accorded to the first, is my anxious hope.

A new generation has appeared, which may, I trust, find itself
interested in the stirring scenes I have delineated with so much care,
that they might be strictly historical, as well as locally correct.

To write this book was, for me (with my knowledge of French history) a
labour of love. It takes me back to the happiest period of my life,
passed on the banks of the historic Loire: to Blois, Amboise, Chambord,
and, a little further off, to the lovely _plaisances_ of Chenonceaux and
Azay le Rideau, the woods of magnificent Versailles, and Saint Cloud
(now a desolation), on to the walls of the palatial Louvre, the
house-tree of the great Kings and Queens of France--never can all these
annals be fitly told! Never can they be exhausted!

To be the guide to these romantic events for the American public is
indeed an honour. To lead where they will follow, with, I trust,
something of my own enthusiasm, is worth all the careful labour the work
has cost me.

With these words I take my leave of the unknown friends across the sea,
who have so kindly appreciated me for many years. Although I have never
_visited_ America, this sympathy bridges space, and draws me to them
with inexpressible cordiality and confidence, in which sentiment I shall
ever remain, leaving my work to speak to them for me.

FRANCES ELLIOT.

     _June, 1893._



PREFACE

TO THE THIRD EDITION--IN REPLY TO CERTAIN CRITICS.


To relate the “Court life” of France--from Francis I. to Louis XIV.--it
is necessary to relate, also, the history of the royal favourites. They
ruled both court and state, if they did not preside at the council. The
caprice of these ladies was, actually, “the Pivot on which French
history turned.”

Louis XIII. was an exception. Under him Cardinal Richelieu reigned.
Richelieu’s “_zeal_” for France led him unfortunately to butcher all his
political and personal opponents. He ruled France, axe in hand. It was
an easy way to absolute power.

Cardinal Mazarin found France in a state of anarchy. The throne was
threatened with far more serious dangers than under Richelieu. To feudal
chiefs were joined royal princes. The great Condé led the Spanish troops
against his countrymen. Yet no political murder stains the name of the
gentle Italian. He triumphed by statescraft,--and married the Infanta to
Louis XIV.

Cardinal de Retz possessed much of the genius of Richelieu. No cruelty,
however, attaches to his memory. But De Retz was on the wrong side, the
side of rebellion. He was false to his king and to France. Great as were
his gifts, he fell before the persevering loyalty of Mazarin.

The personal morality of either of these statesmen ill bears
investigation. Marion de l’Orme was the mistress and the spy of
Richelieu; Mazarin--it is to be hoped--was privately married to the
Queen Regent Anne of Austria. Cardinal de Retz had, as a contemporary
remarks, “a bevy of mistresses.”

We have the authority of Charlotte de Bavière, second wife of Phillippe
Duc d’Orléans, brother of Louis XIV., in her _Autobiographical
Fragments_, “that her predecessor, Henrietta of England, was poisoned.”
No legal investigation was ever made as to the cause of her sudden
death. There is no proof “that Louis XIV. disbelieved she was poisoned.”

The number of the victims of the St. Bartholomew-massacre is stated by
Sully to have been 70,000. (_Memoirs_, book I., page 37.) Sully and
other authorities state “that Charles IX., at his death, manifested by
his transports and his tears the sorrow he felt for what he had done.”
Further, “that when dying he sent for Henry of Navarre, in whom _alone_
he found faith and honour.” (Sully, book I., page 42.)

That Sorbin, confessor to Charles IX., should have denied this is
perfectly natural. Henry of Navarre would stink in the confessor’s
nostrils as a pestilent heretic. As to the credibility of Sorbin (a
bigot and a controversialist), I would refer to the _Mémoires de l’état
de France sous Charles IX._, vol. 3, page 267.

According to the _Confession de Saucy_, Sorbin de St. Foy “was made a
Bishop for having placed Charles IX. among the Martyrs.”

FRANCES (MINTO) ELLIOT.

     August, 1873.



PREFACE


All my life I have been a student of French memoir-history. In this
species of literature France is remarkably rich. There exist
contemporary memoirs and chronicles, from a very early period down to
the present time, in which are preserved not only admirable outlooks
over general events, but details of language, character, dress, and
manners, not to be found elsewhere. I was bold enough to fancy that
somewhat yet remained to tell;--say--of the caprices and eccentricities
of Louis XIII., of the homeliness of Henri Quatre, of the feminine
tenderness of Gabrielle d’Estrées, of the lofty piety and unquestioning
confidence of Louise de Lafayette, of the romantic vicissitudes of
Mademoiselle de Montpensier; and that some pictures might be made of
these old French personages for English readers in a way that should
pourtray the substance and spirit of history, without affecting to
maintain its form and dress.

In all I have written I have sought carefully to work into my dialogue
each word and sentence recorded of the individual, every available trait
or peculiarity of character to be found in contemporary memoirs, every
tradition that has come down to us.

To be true to life has been my object. Keeping close to the background
of history, I have endeavoured to group the figures of my foreground as
they grouped themselves in actual life. I have framed them in the frames
in which they really lived.

FRANCES ELLIOT.

FARLEY HILL COURT,
Christmas, 1872.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

I--FRANCIS I.                                                          1

II--CHARLES DE BOURBON                                                 6

III--BROTHER AND SISTER                                               12

IV--THE QUALITY OF MERCY                                              20

V--ALL LOST SAVE HONOUR                                               28

VI--BROKEN FAITH                                                      33

VII--LA DUCHESSE D’ÉTAMPES                                            42

VIII--LAST DAYS                                                       49

IX--CATHERINE DE’ MEDICI                                              55

X--A FATAL JOUST                                                      58

XI--THE WIDOWED QUEEN                                                 63

XII--MARY STUART AND HER HUSBAND                                      67

XIII--A TRAITOR                                                       74

XIV--THE COUNCIL OF STATE                                             80

XV--CATHERINE’S VENGEANCE                                             86

XVI--THE ASTROLOGER’S CHAMBER                                         94

XVII--AT CHENONCEAU                                                  101

XVIII--A DUTIFUL DAUGHTER                                            113

XIX--BEFORE THE STORM                                                122

XX--ST. BARTHOLOMEW                                                  129

XXI--THE END OF CATHERINE DE’ MEDICI                                 139

XXII--THE LAST OF THE VALOIS                                         146

XXIII--DON JUAN                                                      158

XXIV--CHARMANTE GABRIELLE                                            172

XXV--ITALIAN ART                                                     186

XXVI--BIRON’S TREASON                                                198

XXVII--A COURT MARRIAGE                                              207

XXVIII--THE PREDICTION FULFILLED                                     215

XXIX--LOUIS XIII.                                                    227

XXX--THE ORIEL WINDOW                                                235

XXXI--AN OMINOUS INTERVIEW                                           244

XXXII--LOVE AND TREASON                                              254

XXXIII--THE CARDINAL DUPED                                           263

XXXIV--THE MAID OF HONOUR                                            271

XXXV--AT VAL DE GRÂCE                                                283

XXXVI--THE QUEEN BEFORE THE COUNCIL                                  291

XXXVII--LOUISE DE LAFAYETTE                                          302

NOTES                                                                317



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                    PAGE

THE CHÂTEAU OF CHENONCEAU                                  _Frontispiece_
    From the painting by Debat Ponson.
    (With permission of Ad. Braun et Cie.)

PORTION OF THE ROOF OF THE CHÂTEAU OF CHAMBORD                         2

CHÂTEAU OF AZAY LE RIDEAU                                              6

FRANCIS I.                                                            10
    From the painting by Titian.

DOOR OF THE CHAPEL, CHÂTEAU OF AMBOISE                                16

HENRY, DUKE OF MONTMORENCI, MARSHAL OF FRANCE                         24
    From a portrait by Balthasar Moncornet.

THE CHEVALIER BAYARD                                                  40
    After A. de Neuville.
    (By permission of Estes & Lauriat.)

QUEEN ELINOR                                                          44

CHÂTEAU OF AMBOISE                                                    48

DUCHESSE D’ÉTAMPES                                                    52

CHÂTEAU DE CHAMBORD                                                   56

SPIRAL STAIRCASE, CHÂTEAU OF BLOIS                                    78
    (By permission of Neurdein, Paris.)

COUÇY                                                                 86

THE GARDENS OF THE TUILERIES, PARIS                                   90

A GATE OF THE LOUVRE, AFTER ST. BARTHOLOMEW’S DAY                    102

CHARLES IX.                                                          106
    From the painting by Clouet.

HENRI DE GUISE                                                       122
    From a drawing in the Louvre.
    (By permission of A. Giraudon, Paris.)

NOTRE-DAME, PARIS                                                    126

ADMIRAL GASPARD DE COLIGNY                                           132
    From a drawing by François Clouet.
    (By permission of A. Giraudon, Paris.)

CATHERINE DE MÉDICIS                                                 140

CHÂTEAU DE BLOIS                                                     150

HENRY IV.                                                            158
    From a contemporary painting in the Museum at Versailles.

DIANA DE POITIERS, BY JEAN GOUJON                                    164
    From the Château of Anet, now in the Louvre.
    (By permission of Levy, Paris.)

THE CASCADE OF ST. CLOUD                                             174
    From an engraving by Rigaud.

GENERAL VIEW OF FONTAINEBLEAU                                        190
    From an old print.

MARIE DE MÉDICIS                                                     204
    From a steel engraving.

COUÇY--INTERIOR, SHOWING THICKNESS OF WALLS                          218

LOUIS XIII., KING OF FRANCE AND NAVARRE                              232
    From an old print.

CARDINAL RICHELIEU                                                   270

CHÂTEAU OF NANTES                                                    280



AUTHORITIES


  Mémoires de Brantôme.
  Mémoires de son Temps, Du Bellay.
  Histoire de Henri Duc de Bouillon.
  Mémoires de Condé.
  Dictionnaire de Bayle, “_Duc de Guise_.”
  Histoire des Guerres Civiles de la France, par Davila.
  Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire de France, par Champollion.
  Mémoires de Coligni.
  Novaes, Storia dei Pontefici.
  Mémoires de Marguerite de Valois.
  Journal de Henri III.
  Mémoires de Sully.
  Histoire de Henri IV., par Mathieu.
  Histoire des Amours de Henri IV.
  L’Intrigue du Cabinet sous Henri IV. et Louis XIII.
  Mémoires pour l’Histoire du Cardinal de Richelieu.
  Mémoires du Cardinal de Richelieu.
  Histoire de la Mère et du Fils, par Mezeray.
  Mémoires du Maréchal de Bassompierre.
  Observations de Bassompierre.
  Mémoires de feu Monsieur (Gaston) Duc d’Orléans.
  Mémoires de Cinq-Mars.
  Mémoires de Montrésor.
  La Cour de Marie de’ Medici, par un Cadet de Gascogne.
  Lettres de Madame de Sévigné.
  Mémoires de Mademoiselle de Montpensier.
  Mémoires du Duc de Lauzun.
  Mémoires de Madame de Motteville.
  Mémoires de M. d’Artagnan.
  Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz.
  Mémoires de La Porte.
  Mémoires de Mazarin.
  Œuvres Complètes de Saint-Simon.
  Mémoires de la Duchesse de la Vallière.
  Mémoires de la Marquise de Montespan.
  Mémoires de la Marquise de Maintenon.
  Amours des Rois de France.
  Dulaure, Histoire de Paris.
  Histoire de la Touraine, dans la Bibliothèque Publique à Tours.
  Capefigue, Ouvrages Divers.



OLD COURT LIFE IN FRANCE.



CHAPTER I.

FRANCIS I.


We are in the sixteenth century. Europe is young in artistic life. The
minds of men are moved by the discussions, councils, protests, and
contentions of the Reformation. The printing press is spreading
knowledge into every corner of the globe.

At this period, three highly educated and unscrupulous young men divide
the power of Europe. They are Henry VIII. of England, Charles V. of
Austria, and Francis I. of France. Each is magnificent in taste; each is
desirous of power and conquest. Each acts as a spur to the others both
in peace and in war. They introduce the cultivated tastes, the refined
habits, the freedom of thought of modern life, and from the period in
which they flourish modern history dates.

Of these three monarchs Francis is the boldest, cleverest, and most
profligate. The elegance, refinement, and luxury of his court are
unrivalled; and this luxury strikes the senses from its contrast with
the frugal habits of the ascetic Louis XI. and the homely Louis XII.

His reign educated Europe. If ambition led him towards Italy, it was as
much to capture the arts of that classic land and to bear them back in
triumph to France, as to acquire the actual territory. Francis
introduced the French Renaissance, that subtle union of elaborate
ornamentation with purity of design which was the renovation of art.
When and how he acquired such exact appreciation of the beautiful is
unexplained. That he possessed judgment and taste is proved by the
monuments he left behind, and by his patronage of the greatest masters
of their several arts.

The wealth of beauty and colour, the flowing lines of almost divine
expression in the works of the Italian painters of the Cinque-cento,
delighted the sensuous soul of Francis. Wherever he lived he gathered
treasures of their art around him. Such a nature as his had no sympathy
with the meritorious but precise elaboration of the contemporary Dutch
school, led by the Van Eycks and Holbein. It was Leonardo da Vinci, the
head of the Milanese school, who blended power and tenderness, that
Francis delighted to honour. He brought Cellini, Primaticcio, and
Leonardo from Italy, and never wearied of their company. He established
the aged Leonardo at the Château de Clos, near his own castle of
Amboise, where the painter is said to have died in the arms of his royal
patron.

As an architect, Francis left his mark beyond any other sovereign of
Europe. He transformed the gloomy fortress-home--embattled, turreted,
and moated--into the elaborately decorated, manorial château. The bare
and foot-trodden space without,

[Illustration: Portion of the Roof of the Château of Chambord]

enclosed with walls of defence, was changed into green lawns and
overarching bowers breaking the vista toward the royal forest, the
flowing river, and the open _campagne_.

Francis had a mania for building. Like Louis XIV., who in the century
following built among the sandhills of Versailles, Francis insisted on
creating a fairy palace amid the flat and dusty plains of Sologne. Here
the Renaissance was to achieve its triumph. At Chambord, near Blois,
were massed every device, decoration, and eccentricity of his favourite
style. So identified is this place with its creator, that even his
intriguing life peeps out in the double staircase under the central
tower--representing a gigantic fleur-de-lys in stone--where those who
ascend are invisible to those who descend; in the doors, concealed in
sliding panels behind the arras; and in many double walls and secret
stairs.

Azay le Rideau, built on a beautifully wooded island on the river Indre,
though less known than Chambord, was and is an exquisite specimen of the
Renaissance. It owes the fascination of its graceful outlines and
peculiar ornamentation to the masterhand which has graven his crowned F
and Salamander on its quaint façades. The Louvre and Fontainebleau are
also signed by these monograms. He, and his son Henry II., made these
piles the historic monuments we now behold.

Such was Francis, the artist. As a soldier, he followed in the steps of
Bayard, “Sans peur et sans reproche.” He perfected that poetic code of
honour which reconciles the wildest courage with generosity towards an
enemy. A knight-errant in love of danger and adventure, Francis comes
to us as the perfect type of the chivalrous Frenchman; ready to do
battle on any provocation either as king or gentleman, either at the
head of his army, in the tournament, or in the duello. He loved all that
was gay, bright, and beautiful. He delighted in the repose of peace, yet
no monarch ever plunged his country into more ruinous and causeless
wars. Though capable of the tenderest and purest affection, no man was
ever more heartless and cruel in principle and conduct.

Francis, Duc de Valois,[1] was educated at home by his mother, Madame
Louise de Savoie, Duchesse d’Angoulême, Regent of France, together with
his brilliant sister, Marguerite, “the pearl of the Valois,” poetess,
story-teller, artist, and politician. Each of these royal ladies was
tenderly attached to the clever, handsome youth, and together formed
what they chose to call “a trinity of love.” The old Castle of Amboise,
in Touraine, the favourite abode of Louis XII., continued to be their
home after his death. Here, too, the hand of Francis is to be traced in
sculptured windows and architectural façades, in noble halls and broad
galleries, and in the stately terraced gardens overlooking the Loire
which flows beneath its walls. Here, under the formal lime alleys and
flowering groves, or in the shadow of the still fortified bastions, the
brother and sister sat or wandered side by side, on many a summer day;
read and talked of poetry and troubadours, of romance and chivalry, of
Arthur, Roland, and Charlemagne, of spells and witcheries, and of Merlin
the enchanter whose magic failed before a woman’s glance.

Printing at that time having become general, literature of all kinds
circulated in every direction, stirring men’s minds with fresh tides of
knowledge. Marguerite de Valois, who was called “the tenth Muse,” dwelt
upon poetry and fiction, and already meditated her Boccaccio-like
stories, afterwards to be published under the title of the _Heptameron_.
Francis gloated over such adventures as were detailed in the roundelay
of the “Four Sons of Aymon,” a ballad of that day, devoured the history
of _Amadis de Gaul_, and tried his hand in twisting many a love-rhyme,
after the fashion of the “Romaunt of the Rose.”

In such an idyllic life of love, of solitude, and of thought, full of
the humanising courtesies of family life, was formed the paradoxical
character of Francis, who above all men possessed what the French
describe as “the reverse of his qualities.” His fierce passions still
slumbered, his imagination was filled with poetry, his heart beat high
with the endearing love of a brother and a son. His reckless courage
vented itself in the chase, among the royal forests of Amboise and of
Chanteloup, that darkened the adjacent hills, or in a tustle with the
boorish citizens, or travelling merchants, in the town below.

Thus he grew into manhood, his stately yet condescending manners,
handsome person, and romantic courage gaining him devoted adherents. Yet
when we remember that Francis served as the type for Hugo’s play of _Le
Roi s’amuse_ we pause and--shudder.



CHAPTER II.

CHARLES DE BOURBON.


The Court is at Amboise. Francis is only twenty, and still solicits the
advice of his mother, Louise de Savoie, regent during his minority.
Marguerite, now married to the Duc d’Alençon, has also considerable
influence over him. Both these princesses, who are with him at Amboise,
insist on the claims of their kinsman, Charles de Montpensier, Duc de
Bourbon,--in right of his wife, Suzanne, only daughter and heiress of
Pierre, the last duke,--to be appointed Constable of France. It is an
office next in power to the sovereign, and has not been revived since
the treasonable conspiracy of the Comte de St. Pol, in the reign of
Louis XI.

Bourbon is only twenty-six, but he is already a hero. He has braved
death again and again in the battle-field with dauntless valour. In
person he is tall and handsome. In manners, he is frank, bold, and
prepossessing; but when offended, his proud nature easily turns to
vindictive and almost savage revenge. Invested with the double dignity
of General of the royal forces and Constable of France, he comes to
Amboise to salute the King and the princesses, who are both strangely
interested in his career, and to take the last commands from Francis,
who does not now propose accompanying his army into Italy.

There is a restless, mobile expression on Bourbon’s dark yet comely
face, that tells of strong passions ill suppressed. A man capable of
ardent and devoted

[Illustration: CHÂTEAU OF AZAY-LE-RIDEAU.]

love, and of bitter hate; his marriage with his cousin Suzanne, lately
dead, had been altogether a political alliance to bring him royal
kindred, wealth, and power. Suzanne had failed to interest his heart. It
is said that another passion has long engaged him. Francis may have some
hint as to who the lady is, and may resent Bourbon’s presumption. At all
events, the Constable is no favourite with the King. He dislikes his
_fanfaronnade_ and haughty address. He loves not either to see a subject
of his own age so powerful and so magnificent; it trenches too much on
his own prerogatives of success. Besides, as lads, Bourbon and Francis
had quarrelled at a game of _maille_. The King had challenged Bourbon
but had never fought him, and Bourbon resented this refusal as an
affront to his honour.

The Constable, mounted on a splendid charger, with housings of black
velvet, and attended by a brilliant suite, gallops into the courtyard.
His fine person is set off by a rich surcoat, worn over a suit of gilded
armour. He wears a red and white _panache_ in his helmet, and his sword
and dagger are thickly incrusted with diamonds.

At the top of the grand staircase are posted one hundred archers, royal
pages conduct the Constable through the range of state apartments.

The King receives Bourbon in the great gallery hung with tapestry. He is
seated on a chair of state, ornamented with elaborate carving, on which
the arms of France are in high relief. This chair is placed on a raised
floor, or dais, covered with a carpet. Beside him stands the grand
master of the ceremonies, who introduces the Constable to the King.
Francis, who inclines his head and raises his cap for an instant, is
courteous but cold. Marguerite d’Alençon is present; like Bourbon, she
is unhappily mated. The Duc d’Alençon is, physically and mentally, her
inferior. When the Constable salutes the King, Marguerite stands apart.
Conscious that her brother’s eyes read her thoughts, she blushes deeply
and averts her face. Bourbon advances to the spot where she is seated in
the recess of an oriel window. He bows low before her; Marguerite rises,
and offers him her hand. Their eyes meet. There is no disguise in the
passionate glance of the Constable; Marguerite, confused and
embarrassed, turns away.

“Has your highness no word of kindness for your kinsman?” says the
Constable, in a low voice.

“You know, cousin, your interests are ever dear to me,” replies she, in
the same tone; then, curtseying deeply to the King, she takes the arm of
her husband, M. d’Alençon, who was killing flies at the window, and
leaves the gallery.

“_Diable!_” says Francis to his confidant, Claude de Guise, in an
undertone; “My sister is scarcely civil to the Constable. Did you
observe, she hardly answered him? All the better. It will teach Bourbon
humility, and not to look too high for a mate.”

“Yet her highness pleaded eagerly with your Majesty for his
advancement.”

“Yes, yes; that was to please our mother. Suzanne de Bourbon was her
cousin, and the Regent promised her before her death to support her
husband’s claims.”

Meanwhile, the Constable receives, with a somewhat reserved and haughty
civility, the compliments of the Court. He is conscious of an
antagonistic atmosphere. It is well known that the King loves him not;
and whom the King loves not neither does the courtier.

A page then approaches, and invites the Constable, in the name of Queen
Claude, to join her afternoon circle. Meanwhile, he is charged to
conduct the Constable to an audience with the Regent-mother, who awaits
him in her apartments.

The King had been cool and the Princess silent and reserved: not so the
Regent Louise de Savoie, who advances to meet the Constable with
unmistakable eagerness.

“I congratulate you, my cousin,” she says, holding out both her hands to
him, which he receives kneeling, “on the dignity with which my son has
invested you. I may add, that I was not altogether idle in the matter.”

“Your highness will, I hope, be justified in the favour you have shown
me,” replies the Constable, coldly.

“Be seated, my cousin,” continues Louise. “I have desired to see you
alone that I might fully explain with what grief I find myself obliged,
by the express orders of my son, to dispute with a kinsman I so much
esteem as yourself”--she pauses a moment, the Constable bows
gravely--“the inheritance of my poor cousin, your wife, Madame Suzanne
de Bourbon. Suzanne was dear to me, and you also, Constable, have a high
place in my regard.”

Louise ceases. She looks significantly at the Constable, as if waiting
for him to answer; but he does not reply, and again bows.

“I am placed,” continues the Regent, the colour gathering on her cheek,
“in a most painful alternative. The Chancellor has insisted on the
legality of my claims--claims on the inheritance of your late wife,
daughter of Pierre, Duc de Bourbon, my cousin. I will not trouble you
with details. My son urges the suit. My own feelings plead strongly
against proceeding any further in the matter.” She hesitates and stops.

“Your highness is of course aware that the loss of this suit would be
absolute ruin to me?” says Bourbon, looking hard at Louise.

“I fear it would be most disastrous to your fortunes. That they are dear
to me, judge--you are by my interest made Constable of France, second
only in power to my son.”

“I have already expressed my gratitude, madame.”

“But, Constable,” continues Louise de Savoie, speaking with much
animation, “why have you insisted on your claims--why not have trusted
to the gratitude of the King towards a brave and zealous subject? Why
not have counted on myself, who have both power and will, as I have
shown, to protect you?”

“The generosity of the King and your highness’s favour, which I accept
with gratitude, have nothing to do with the legal rights of my late
wife’s inheritance. I desire not, madame, to be beholden in such matters
even to your highness or to his Majesty.”

“Well, Constable, well, as you will; you are, I know, of a proud and
noble nature. But I have desired earnestly,” and the Regent rises and
places herself on another chair nearer the Constable, “to

[Illustration: FRANCIS I.

FROM THE PAINTING BY TITIAN.]

ascertain from your own lips if this suit cannot be settled _à
l’amiable_. There are many means of accommodating a lawsuit, Duke.
Madame Anne, wife of two kings of France, saved Brittany from cruel wars
in a manner worthy of imitation.”

“Truly,” replies Bourbon, with a sigh; “but I know not what princess of
the blood would enable me to accommodate your highness’s suit in so
agreeable a manner.”

“Have you not yourself formed some opinion on the subject?” asks Louise,
looking at the Constable with undisguised tenderness.

“No, madame, I have not. Since the hand of your beautiful daughter,
Madame Marguerite, is engaged, I know no one.”

“But--” and she hesitates, and again turns her eyes upon him, which the
Constable does not observe, as he is adjusting the hilt of his
dagger--“but--you forget, Duke, that I am a widow.”

As she speaks she places her hand upon that of the Constable, and gazes
into his face. Bourbon starts violently and looks up. Louise de Savoie,
still holding his hand, meets his gaze with an unmistakable expression.
She is forty years old, but vain and intriguing. There is a pause. Then
the Constable rises and drops the hand which had rested so softly upon
his own. His handsome face darkens into a look of disgust. A flush of
rage sends the blood tingling to the cheeks of Louise.

“Your highness mistakes me,” says Bourbon. “The respect I owe to his
Majesty, the disparity of our years, my own feelings, all render such an
union impossible. Your highness does me great honour, but I do not at
present intend to contract any other alliance. If his Majesty goes to
law with me, why I will fight him, madame,--that is all.”

“Enough,” answers Louise, in a hoarse voice, “I understand.” The
Constable makes a profound obeisance and retires.

This interview was the first act in that long and intricate drama by
which the spite of a mortified woman drove the Duc de Bourbon--the
greatest general of his age, under whom the arms of France never knew
defeat--to become a traitor to his king and to France.



CHAPTER III.

BROTHER AND SISTER.


Years have passed; Francis, with his wife, Queen Claude, daughter of
Louis XII. and Anne of Brittany, is at Chambord, in the Touraine.
Claude, but for the Salic law, would have been Queen of France. In her
childhood, she was affianced to Charles, son of Philip the Fair,
afterwards Charles V. of Germany, the great rival of Francis. Francis
had never loved her, the union had been political; yet Claude is gentle
and devoted, and he says of her, “that her soul is as a rose without a
thorn.” This queen--the darling of her parents--can neither bear the
indifference nor the infidelity of her brilliant husband, and dies of
her neglected love at the early age of twenty-five.

Marguerite d’Alençon, the Duke her husband, and the Court, are assembled
for hunting in the forests of Sologne. Chambord, then but a gloomy
mediæval fortress lying on low swampy lands on the banks of the river
Casson, is barely large enough to accommodate the royal party. Already
Francis meditates many changes; the course of the river Loire, some
fifteen miles distant, is to be turned in order to bathe the walls of a
sumptuous palace, not yet fully conceived in the brain of the royal
architect.

It is spring; Francis is seated in the broad embrasure of an oriel
window, in an oak-panelled saloon which looks towards the surrounding
forest. He eagerly watches the gathering clouds that veil the sun and
threaten to prevent the boar-hunt projected for that morning. Beside
him, in the window, sits his sister Marguerite. She wears a black velvet
riding-habit, faced with gold; her luxuriant hair is gathered into a net
under a plumed hat on which a diamond aigrette glistens. At the farther
end of the room Queen Claude is seated on a high-backed chair, richly
carved, in the midst of her ladies. She is embroidering an altar-cloth;
her face is pale and very plaintive. She is young, and though not
beautiful, there is an angelic expression in her large grey eyes, a
dimpling sweetness about her mouth, that indicate a nature worthy to
have won the love of any man, not such a libertine as Francis. Her dress
is plain and rich, of grey satin trimmed with ermine; a jewelled coif is
upon her head. She bends over her work, now and then raising her wistful
eyes with an anxious look towards the King. The Queen’s habits are
sedentary, and the issue of the hunting party is of no personal
interest to her; she always remains at home with her children and
ladies. Many attendant lords, attired for hunting, are waiting his
Majesty’s pleasure in the adjoining gallery.

“Marguerite,” says the King, turning to the Duchesse d’Alençon, as the
sun reappears out of a bank of cloud, “the weather mends; in a quarter
of an hour we shall start. Meanwhile, dear sister, sit beside me.
_Morbleu_, how well that riding-dress becomes you! You are very
handsome, and worthy to be called the Rose of the Valois. There are few
royal ladies in our Court to compare to you”; and Francis glances
significantly at his gentle Queen, busy over her embroidery, as if to
say--“Would that she resembled you!”

Marguerite, proud of her brother’s praise, reddens with pleasure and
reseats herself at his side. “By-and-by I shall knock down this sombre
old fortress,” continues Francis, looking out of the window at the
gloomy façade, “and transform it into a hunting château. The situation
pleases me, and the surrounding forest is full of game.”

“My brother,” says Marguerite, interrupting him and speaking in an
earnest voice, for her eyes have not followed the direction of the
King’s, which are fixed on the prospect; she seems not to have heard his
remarks, and her bright look has changed into an anxious expression; “my
brother, tell me, have you decided upon the absolute ruin of Bourbon?
Think how his haughty spirit must chafe under the repeated marks of your
displeasure.” They are both silent. Marguerite’s eyes are riveted upon
the King. Francis is embarrassed. He averts his face from the suppliant
look cast upon him by his sister, and again turns to the window, as if
to watch the rapidly passing clouds.

“My sister,” he says at length, “Bourbon is not a loyal subject; he is
unworthy of your regard.”

“Sire, I cannot believe it. Bourbon is no traitor! But, my brother, if
he were, have you not tried him sorely? Have you not driven him from you
by an intolerable sense of injury? Oh, Francis, remember he is our
kinsman, your most zealous servant;--did he not save your life at
Marignano? Who among your generals is cool, daring, valiant, wise as
Bourbon? Has he not borne our flag triumphantly through Italy? Have the
French troops under him ever known defeat? Yet, my brother, you have now
publicly disgraced him.” Her voice trembles with emotion; she is very
pale, and her eyes fill with tears.

“By the mass, Marguerite, no living soul, save our mother, would dare to
address me thus!” exclaims the King, turning towards her. He is much
moved. Then, examining her countenance, he adds, “You are strangely
agitated, my sister. What concern have you with the Constable? Believe
me, I have made Bourbon too powerful.”

“Not now, not now, Francis, when you have, at the request of a woman--of
Madame de Châteaubriand too--taken from him the government of Milan;
when he is superseded in his command; when our mother is pressing on him
a ruinous suit, with your sanction.”

At the name of Madame de Châteaubriand Marguerite’s whole countenance
darkens with anger, the King’s face grows crimson.

“My sister, you plead Bourbon’s cause warmly--too warmly, methinks,” and
Francis turns his head aside to conceal his confusion.

“Not only has your Majesty taken from him the government of Milan,”
continues Marguerite, bitterly, unheeding the King’s interruption, “but
he has been replaced by Lautrec, brother of Madame de Châteaubriand, an
inexperienced soldier, unfitted for such an important post. Oh, my
brother, you are driving Bourbon to despair. So great a general cannot
hang up his victorious sword.”

“By my faith, sister, you press me hard,” replies the King, recovering
the gentle tone with which he always addressed her; “I will communicate
with my council; what you have said shall be duly considered. Meanwhile,
if Bourbon inspires you with such interest, as it seems he does, tell
him to humble his pride and submit himself to us, his sovereign and his
master. If he do, he shall be greater than ever, I promise you.” As he
speaks, he glances at Marguerite, whose eyes fall to the ground. “But
see, my sister, the sun is shining; and there is some one already
mounting in the courtyard. Give the signal for departure, Comte de
Saint-Vallier,” says the King in a louder voice, turning towards two
gentlemen standing at an opposite window in the gallery. The King has to
repeat his command before the Comte de Saint-Vallier hears him.
“Saint-Vallier, you are in deep converse with De Pompérant. Is it love
or war?”

“Neither, Sire,” replies the Captain of the Royal Archers, looking
embarrassed.

“M. de Pompérant, are you going with us

[Illustration: Door of the Chapel, Château of Amboise]

to-day to hunt the boar?” says the King, advancing towards them.

“Sire,” replies De Pompérant, bowing profoundly, “your Majesty does me
great honour; but, with your leave, I will not accompany the hunt.
Urgent business calls me from Chambord.”

“Ah, _coquin_, it is an assignation; confess it,” and a wicked gleam
lights up the King’s eyes.

“No, Sire,” says De Pompérant. “I go to join the Constable de Bourbon,
who is indisposed.”

“Ah! to join the Constable!” Francis pauses and looks at him. “I know he
is your friend,” continues he, suddenly becoming very grave. “Where is
he?”

“At his fortress of Chantelle, Sire.”

“At Chantelle! a fortified place, and without my permission. Truly,
Monsieur de Pompérant, your friend is a daring subject. What if I will
not trust you in his company, and command your attendance on our person
here at Chambord?”

“Then, Sire, I should obey,” replies De Pompérant; “but let your
gracious Majesty remember the Duc de Bourbon is ill; he is a broken and
ruined man, deprived of your favour. Chantelle is more a château than a
fortress.”

“Go, De Pompérant; I did but jest. Tell Bourbon, on the word of a king,
that he has warm friends near my person; that if the Regent-mother gains
her suit against him, I will restore tenfold to him in money, lands, and
honour. Adieu, Monsieur de Pompérant. You are dismissed. Bon voyage.”

Now, the truth was that De Pompérant had come to Chambord upon a secret
mission from Bourbon, who wished to assure himself of those gentlemen
of the Court upon whom he could rely in case of rebellion. The Comte de
Saint-Vallier had just, while standing at the window, pledged his word
to stand by Bourbon for life or death.

The King is now mounting his horse in the courtyard, a noble bay with
glittering harness. He gives the signal of departure, which is echoed
through the woodland recesses by the bugles of the huntsmen. A lovely
lady attired in white has joined the royal retinue in the courtyard. She
rides on in front beside the King, who, the better to converse with her,
has placed his hand upon her horse’s neck. This is Françoise, Comtesse
de Châteaubriand, the favourite of the hour--at whose request Bourbon
had been superseded in the government of Milan by her brother Lautrec.

Behind this pair rides Marguerite d’Alençon with her husband, the Comte
de Guise, Montmorenci, Bonnivet, and other nobles. A large cavalcade of
courtiers follows. Since her conversation with her brother, Marguerite
looks thoughtful and anxious. She is so absent that she does not even
hear the prattle of her husband, who is content to talk and cares not
for reply. On reaching the dense thickets of the forest she suddenly
reins up her horse, and, falling back a little, beckons the Comte de
Saint-Vallier to her side.

“M. le Comte,” she says in a loud voice, so as to be overheard by her
husband and the other gentlemen riding in advance, “tell me when is the
Court to be graced by the presence of your incomparable daughter,
Madame Diane, Grande Seneschale of Normandy?”

“Madame,” replies Saint-Vallier, “her husband, Monseigneur de Brèzè, is
much occupied in his distant government. Diane is young, much younger
than her husband. The Court, madame, is dangerously full of temptations
to the young.”

“We lose a bright jewel by her absence,” says Marguerite, abstractedly.
“M. le Comte,” she continues in a low voice, speaking quickly, and
motioning to him with her hand to approach nearer, “I have something
private to say to you. Ride close by my side. You are a friend of the
Constable de Bourbon?” she asks eagerly.

“Yes, madame, I am.”

“You are, perhaps, his confidant? Speak freely to me; I feel deeply the
misfortunes of the Duke. I would aid him if I could. Is there any
foundation for the suspicion with which my brother regards him? You will
not deceive me, Monsieur de Poitiers?”

Saint-Vallier does not answer at once. “The Constable de Bourbon will
never, I trust, betray his Majesty,” replies he at last, with
hesitation.

“Alas! my poor cousin! Is that all the assurance you can give me,
Monsieur de Saint-Vallier? Oh! he is incapable of treason,” exclaims
Marguerite with enthusiasm; “I would venture my life he is incapable of
treason!”

A courier passes them at this moment, riding with hot speed. He nears
the King, who is now far on in front, and who, hearing the sound of the
horse’s hoofs, stops and listens. The messenger hands the King a
despatch. Francis hastily breaks the seal. It is from Lautrec, the new
governor of Milan. Bourbon is in open rebellion.

Bourbon in open rebellion! This intelligence necessitates the instant
presence of the King at Paris.



CHAPTER IV.

THE QUALITY OF MERCY.


Francis is at the Louvre, surrounded by his most devoted friends and
councillors, Chabannes, La Trémouille, Bonnivet, Montmorenci, Crequi,
Cossé, De Guise, and the two Du Bellays. The Louvre is still the
isolated stronghold, castle, palace, and prison, surrounded by moat,
walls, and bastions, built by Philippe Auguste on the grassy margin of
the Seine. In the centre of the inner court is a round tower, also
moated, and defended by ramparts, ill-famed in feudal annals for its
oubliettes and dungeons, under which the river flows. Four gates, with
posterns and towers, open from the Louvre; that one opposite the Seine
is the strongest. The southern gate--which is low and narrow, with
statues on either hand of Charles V. and his wife, Jeanne de
Bourbon--faces the Church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.[2] Beyond are
gardens and orchards, and a house called Fromenteau, where lions are
kept for the King’s amusement.

These are the days of stately manners, intellectual culture, and
increasing knowledge. Personal honour, as from man to man, is a
religion, of which Bayard is the high priest; treachery to woman, a
virtue inculcated by the King. The idle, vapid life of later courts is
unknown under a monarch who, however addicted to pleasure, cultivates
all kinds of knowledge, whose inquiring intellect seeks to master all
science, to whom indolence is impossible. His very meals are chosen
moments in which he converses with authors, poets, and artists, or
dictates letters to Erasmus and the learned Greek Lascaris. Such
industry and dignity, such grace and condescension, gather around him
the great spirits of the age. He delights in their company.

It is the King’s boast that he has introduced into France the study of
the Greek language, Botany, and Natural History. He buys, at enormous
prices, pictures, pottery, enamels, statues, and manuscripts. As in his
fervid youth at Amboise, he loves poetry and poets. Clément Marot is his
chosen guest, and polishes the King’s rhymes, of which some delicate and
touching stanzas (those on Agnes Sorel,[3] especially) have come down to
us.

Even that witty heretic, Rabelais, found both an appreciative protector
and intelligent friend in a sovereign superior to the prejudices of his
age. With learning, poetry, wit, and intellect, come luxury and
boundless extravagance. Brantôme speaks as with bated breath of the
royal expenditure. These are the days of broad sombrero hats fringed
with gold and looped up with priceless jewels and feathers; of
embroidered cloaks in costly stuffs--heavy with gold or silver
embroidery--hung over the shoulder; of slashed hose and richly chased
rapiers; of garments of cloth-of-gold, embroidered with armorial
bearings in jewels; of satin justaucorps covered with rivières of
diamonds, emeralds, and oriental pearls; of torsades and collars wherein
gold is but the foil to priceless gems. The ladies wear Eastern silks
and golden tissues, with trimmings of rare furs; wide sleeves and
Spanish fardingales, sparkling coifs and jewelled nets, with glittering
veils. They ride in ponderous coaches covered with carving and gilding,
or on horses whose pedigrees are as undoubted as their own, covered with
velvet housings and with silken nets woven with jewels, their manes
plaited with gold and precious stones. But these illustrious ladies
consider gloves a royal luxury, and are weak in respect of stockings.

Foremost in every gorgeous mode is Francis. He wears rich Genoa velvets,
and affects bright colours--rose and sky-blue. A Spanish hat is on his
head, turned up with a white plume, fastened to an aigrette of rubies,
with a golden salamander his device, signifying, “I am nourished and I
die in fire” (“Je me nourris et je meurs dans le feu”).

How well we know his dissipated though distinguished features, as
portrayed by Titian! His long nose, small eyes, broad cheeks, and
cynical mouth. He moves with careless grace, as one who would say, “_Que
m’importe?_ I am King of France; nought comes amiss to me.”

Now he walks up and down the council-room in the Louvre which looks
towards the river. His step is quick and agitated, his face wears an
unusual frown. He calls Bonnivet to him and addresses him in a low
voice, while the other nobles stand back.

“Am I to believe that Bourbon has not merely rebelled against me, but
that the traitor has fled into Spain and made terms with Charles?”

“Your Majesty’s information is precise.”

“What was the manner of his flight?”

“The Duke, Sire, waited at his fortress of Chantelle until the arrival
of Monsieur de Pompérant from your Majesty’s Court at Chambord, feigning
sickness and remaining shut up within his apartments. After Monsieur de
Pompérant’s arrival, a litter was ordered to await his pleasure, and De
Pompérant, dressed in the clothes of the Duke and with his face
concealed by a hood, was carried into the litter, which started for
Moulins, travelling slowly. Meanwhile Bourbon, accompanied by a band of
gentlemen, was galloping on the road to the frontier. He was last seen
at Saint-Jean de Luz, in the Pyrenees.”

“By our Lady!” exclaims Francis, “such treason is a blot upon
knighthood. Bourbon, a man whom we had made as great as ourselves!”

“The Duke, Sire, left a message for your Majesty.”

“A message! Where? and who bore it?”

“De Pompérant, Sire, who has already been arrested at Moulins. The Duke
begged your Majesty to take back the sword which you had given him, and
prayed you to send for the badge which he left hanging at the head of
his bed at Chantelle.”

“_Diable!_ does the villain dare to point his jests at his sovereign?”
and Francis flushes to the roots of his hair with passion. “I wish I had
him face to face in a fair field”--and he lays his hand on the hilt of
his sword;--“but no,” he adds in a calmer voice, “a traitor’s blood
would but soil my weapon. Let him carry his perfidy into Spain--’twill
suit the Emperor; I am well rid of him. Are there many accomplices,
Bonnivet?”

“About two hundred, Sire.”

“Is it possible! Do we know them?”

“The Comte de Saint-Vallier, Sire, is the principal accomplice.”

“What! Saint-Vallier, the Captain of our Archers! That strikes us
nearly. This conspiracy, my lords,” says Francis, advancing to where
Guise, La Trémouille, Montmorenci, and the others stand somewhat apart
during his conversation with Bonnivet, “is much more serious than I
imagined. I must remain in France to wait the issue of events. You,
Bonnivet, must take command of the Italian campaign.”

Bonnivet kneels and kisses the hand of Francis.

“I am sorry for Jean de Poitiers,” continues Francis, turning to Guise.
“Are the proofs against him certain?”

“Sire, Saint-Vallier accompanied the Constable to the frontier.”

“I am sorry,” repeats the King, and he passes his hand thoughtfully over
his brow and muses.

“Jean de Poitiers, my _ci-devant_ Captain of the Guards, is the father
of a charming lady; Madame Diane, the Seneschale of Normandy, is an
angel, though her husband, De Brèzè--hum--why, he is a monster. Vulcan
and Venus--the old story, eh, my lords?”

There is a general laugh.

A page enters and announces a lady humbly

[Illustration: HENRY, DUKE OF MONTMORENCI, MARSHAL OF FRANCE.

FROM A PORTRAIT BY BALTAZAR MONCORNET.]

craving to speak with his Majesty. The King smiles, his wicked eyes
glisten. “Who? what? Do I know her?”

“Sire, the lady is deeply veiled; she desires to speak with your Majesty
alone.”

“But, by St. Denis--do I know her?”

“I think, Sire, it is the wife of the Grand Seneschal of
Normandy--Madame Diane de Brèzè.”

There is a pause, some whispering, and a low laugh is heard. The King
looks around displeased. “I am not surprised,” says he. “When I heard of
the father’s danger I expected the daughter’s intercession. Let the lady
enter.”

With a wave of his hand he dismisses the Court, and seats himself on a
chair of state under a rich canopy embroidered in gold with the arms of
France.

Diane enters. She is dressed in long black robes which sweep the floor.
Her head is covered with a thick lace veil which she raises as she
approaches the King. She weeps, but her tears do not mar her beauty,
which is absolutely radiant. She is exquisitely fair and wonderfully
fresh, with golden hair and dark eyebrows--a most winsome lady.

She throws herself at the King’s feet. She clasps her hands. Her sobs
drown her voice.

“Pardon, Sire, pardon my father!” she at length falters. The King stoops
forward, and raises her to the estrade on which he stands. He looks
tenderly into her soft blue eyes, his hands are locked in hers.

“Your father, madame, my old and trusted servant, is guilty of treason.”

“Alas! Sire, I fear so; but he is old, too old for punishment. He has
been hitherto a true subject of your Majesty.”

“He is blessed, madame, with a most surpassing daughter.” Francis pauses
and looks steadfastly at her with eyes of ardent admiration. “But I fear
I must confirm the sentence of my judges, madame; your father is certain
to be found guilty of treason.”

“Oh! Sire, mercy, mercy! grant me my father’s life, I implore you”; and
again Diane falls prostrate at the King’s feet, and looks supplicatingly
into his face. Again the King raises her.

“Well, madame, you are aware that you desire the pardon of a traitor; on
what ground do you ask for his life?”

“Sire, I ask it for the sake of mercy; mercy is the privilege of kings,”
and her soft eyes seek those of Francis and rest upon them. “I have come
so far, too, from Normandy, to invoke it--my poor father!” and she sobs
again. “Your Majesty will not send me back refused, broken-hearted?”
Still her eyes are fixed upon the King.

“Mercy, Madame Diane, is, doubtless, a royal prerogative. I am an
anointed king,” and he lets go her hands, and draws himself up proudly,
“and I may use it; but the prerogative of a woman is beauty. Beauty,
Madame Diane,” adds Francis, with a glance at the lovely woman still
kneeling at his feet, “is more potent than a king’s word.”

There is silence for a few moments. Diane’s eyes are now bent upon the
ground, her bosom heaves. Francis contemplates her with delight.

“Will you, fair lady, deign to exercise your prerogative?”

“Truly, Sire, I know not what your Majesty would say,” replies Diane,
looking down and blushing.

Something in his eyes gives her hope, for she starts violently, rises,
and clasping her hands together exclaims, “How, Sire! do I read your
meaning aright? can I, by my humble service to your Majesty----”

“Yes, fair lady, you can. Your presence at my Court, where your adorable
beauty shall receive due homage, will be my hostage for your father’s
loyalty. Madame Diane, I declare that the Comte de Saint-Vallier is
PARDONED. Though he had rent the crown from off our head, your father is
pardoned. And I add, madame, that it was the charm of his daughter that
rendered a refusal impossible.”

Madame Diane’s face shines like April sunshine through rain-drops; a
smile parts her lips, and her glistening eyes dance with joy; she is
more lovely than ever.

“Thanks, thanks, Sire!” And again she would have knelt, but the King
again takes her hands, and looks into her face so earnestly that she
again blushes.

Did that look of the King fascinate her? or did the sudden joy of saving
her father move her heart with love? Who can tell? It is certain,
however, that from this time Diane left Normandy, and became one of the
brightest ornaments of that beauty-loving Court. Diane was a woman of
masculine understanding, concealed under the gentlest and most
fascinating manners; but she was also mercenary, intriguing, and
domineering. Of her beauty we may judge for ourselves, as many portraits
of her are extant, especially one of great excellence by Leonardo da
Vinci, in the long gallery at Chenonceau.

Diane was soon forsaken, but the ready-witted lady consoled herself by
laying siege to the heart of the son of Francis, Prince Henry,
afterwards Henry II.

Henry surrendered at discretion. Nothing can more mark the freedom of
the times than this _liaison_. Yet both these ladies--Diane de Poitiers
and her successor in the favour of the King, the Duchesse
d’Étampes--were constantly in the society of two most virtuous queens
Claude, and Elinor of Spain, the successive wives of Francis.



CHAPTER V.

ALL LOST SAVE HONOUR.


The next scene is in Italy. The French army lies encamped on the broad
plains of Lombardy, backed by snowy lines of Alpine fastnesses.

Bonnivet, in command of the French, presumptuous and inexperienced, has
been hitherto defeated in every battle. Bourbon, fighting on the side of
Spain, is, as before, victorious.

Francis, stung by the repeated defeat of his troops, has now joined the
army, and commands in person. Milan, where the plague rages, has opened
its gates to him; but Pavia, distant about twenty miles, is occupied by
the Spaniards in force. Antonio de Leyva is governor. Thither the French
advance in order to besiege the city.

The open country is defended by the Spanish forces under Bourbon.
Francis, maddened by the presence of his cousin, rushes onward.
Montmorenci and Bonnivet, flatterers both, assure him that victory is
certain by means of a _coup de main_.

It is night; the days are short, for it is February. The winter moon
lights up the rich meadow lands divided by the broad Ticino and broken
by the deep ditches and sluggish streams which surround the city. Tower,
campanile, dome, and turret, with here and there the grim façade of a
mediæval palace, stand out in the darkness.

Yonder among the meadows are the French, darkening the surrounding
plain. Francis knows that the Constable is advancing to support the
garrison of Pavia, and he desires to carry the city by assault before
his arrival. Ever too rash, and now excited by a passionate sense of
injury, Francis, with D’Alençon, De la Trémouille, De Foix, and
Bonnivet, leads the attack at the head of his cavalry. Now he is under
the very walls. Despite the dim moonlight, no one can mistake him. He
wears a suit of steel armour inlaid with gold; a crimson surcoat,
embroidered with gilt “F’s”; a helmet encircled by a jewelled crown, out
of which rises a yellow plume and golden salamander. For an instant
success seems certain; the scaling-ladders thick with soldiers are
already planted against the lowest walls, and the garrison retreats
under cover of the bastions. A sudden panic seizes the troops beneath,
who are to support the assault. In the treacherous moonlight they have
fallen into confusion among the deep, slimy ditches; many are drifted
away in the current of the great river. A murderous cannonade from the
city walls now opens on the assailants and on the cavalry. Francis falls
back. The older generals conjure him to retreat and raise the siege
before the arrival of Bourbon, but, backed by Bonnivet and Montmorenci,
he will not hear of it. The battle rages during the night. The morning
light discovers the Spaniards commanded by Bourbon and Pescara, with the
whole strength of their army, close under the walls. Again the King
leads a fresh assault--a forlorn hope, rather. He fights desperately;
the yellow plumes of his helmet wave hither and thither as his horse
dashes wildly from side to side amidst the smoke, in the thickest of the
battle. See, for an instant he falters,--he is wounded and bleeding. He
recovers, however, and again clapping spurs to his horse, scatters his
surrounding foes; six have already fallen by his hand. Look! his charger
is pierced by a ball and falls with his rider. After a desperate
struggle the King extricates himself; now on foot, he still fights
furiously. Alas! it is in vain. Every moment his enemies thicken around
him, pressing closer and closer. His gallant followers drop one by one
under the unerring aim of the Basque marksmen. La Trémouille has fallen.
De Foix lies a corpse at his feet. Bonnivet in despair expiates his evil
counsel by death.[4] Every shot takes from him one of the pillars of his
throne. Francis flings himself wildly on the points of the Spanish
pikes. The Royal Guards fall like summer grass before the sickle; but
where the King stands, still dealing desperate blows, the bodies of the
slain form a rampart of protection around him. His very enemies stand
back amazed at such furious courage. While he struggles for his life
hand to hand with D’Avila and D’Ovietta, plumeless, soiled, and bloody,
a loud cry rises from a thousand voices--“It is the King--LET HIM
SURRENDER--_Capture the King!_” There is a dead silence; the Spanish
troops fall back. A circle is formed round the now almost fainting
Francis, who lies upon the blood-stained earth. De Pompérant advances.
He kneels before the master whom he has betrayed, he implores him to
yield to Bourbon.

At that hated name the King starts into fresh fury; he grasps his sword,
he struggles to his feet. “Never,” cries he in a hoarse voice; “never
will I surrender to that traitor! Rather let me die by the hand of a
common marksman. Go back, Monsieur de Pompérant, and call to me the
Vice-King of Naples.”

Lannoy advances, kneels, and kisses his hand. “Your Majesty is my
prisoner,” he cries aloud, and a ringing shout is echoed from the
Spanish troops.

Francis gives him his sword. Lannoy receives it kneeling, and replaces
it by his own. The King’s helmet is then removed; a velvet cap is given
to him, which he places on his head. The Spanish and Italian troopers
and the deadly musketeers silently creep round him where he lies on the
grass, supported by cushions, one to tear a feather from his broken
plume, another to cut a morsel from his surcoat as a relic. This
involuntary homage from his enemies is evidently agreeable to Francis.
As his surcoat rapidly disappears under the knives of his opponents, he
smiles, and graciously acknowledges the rough advances of those same
soldiers who a moment before thirsted for his blood. Other generals with
Pescara advance and surround him. He courteously acknowledges their
respectful salutations.

“Spare my poor soldiers, spare my Frenchmen, generals,” says he.

These unselfish words bring tears into Pescara’s eyes.

“Your Majesty shall be obeyed,” replies he.

“I thank you,” replies Francis with a faltering voice.

A pony is now brought to bear him into Pavia. Francis becomes greatly
agitated. As they raise him up and assist him to mount, he turns to his
escort of generals--

“Marquis,” says he, turning to Pescara, “and you, my lord governor, if
my calamity touches your hearts, as it would seem to do, I beseech you
not to lead me into Pavia. I would not be exposed to the affront of
entering as a prisoner a city I should have taken by assault. Carry me,
I pray you, to some shelter without the walls.”

“Your Majesty’s wishes are our law,” replies Pescara, saluting him. “We
will bear you to the monastery of Saint-Paul, without the gate towards
Milan.”

To Saint-Paul the King was carried. It was from thence he wrote the
historic letter to his mother, Louise de Savoie, Regent of France, in
which he tells her, “_all is lost save honour_.”



CHAPTER VI.

BROKEN FAITH.


We are at Madrid. Francis has been lured hither by incredible treachery,
under the idea that he will meet Charles V., and be at once set at
liberty.

He is confined in one of the rooms of the Alcazar, then used as a state
prison. A massive oaken door, clamped and barred with iron, opens from
the court from whence a flight of steps leads into two small chambers
which occupy one of the towers. The inner room has narrow windows,
closely barred. The light is dim. There is just room for a table, two
chairs, and a bed. It is a cage rather than a prison.

On a chair, near an open window, sits the King. He is emaciated and
pale; his cheeks are hollow, his lips are white, his eyes are sunk in
his head, his dress is neglected. His glossy hair, plentifully streaked
with grey, covers the hand upon which he wearily leans his head. He
gazes vacantly at the setting sun opposite--a globe of fire rapidly
sinking below the low dark plain which bounds his view.

There are boundless plains in front of him, and on his left a range of
tawny hills. A roadway runs beneath the tower, where the Imperial Guards
are encamped. The gay fanfare of the trumpets sounding the retreat, the
waving banners, the prancing horses, the brilliant accoutrements, the
glancing armour of the imperial troops, mock him where he sits. Around
him is Madrid. Palace, tower, and garden rise out of a sea of buildings
burnt by southern sunshine. The church-bells ring out the _Ave Maria_.
The fading light darkens into night. Still the King sits beside the open
window, lost in thought. No one comes to disturb him. Now and then some
broken words escape his lips:--“Save France--my poor soldiers--brave De
Foix--noble Bonnivet--see, he is tossed on the Spanish pikes. Alas!
would I were dead. My sister--my little lads--the Dauphin--Henry--Orléans--I
shall never see you more. Oh, God! I am bound in chains of
iron--France--liberty--Glory--gone--gone for ever!” His head sinks on
his breast; tears stream from his eyes. He falls back fainting in his
chair, and is borne to his bed.

Francis has never seen Charles, who is at his capital, Toledo. The
Emperor does not even excuse his absence. This cold and cautious policy,
this death in life, is agony to the ardent temperament of Francis. His
health breaks down. A settled melancholy, a morbid listlessness
overwhelms him. He is seized with fever; he rapidly becomes delirious.
His royal gaoler, Charles, will not believe in his danger; he still
refuses to see him. False himself, he believes Francis to be shamming.
The Spanish ministers are distracted by their master’s obstinacy, for if
the French King dies at Madrid of broken heart, all is lost, and a
bloody war with France inevitable.

At the moment when the Angel of Death hovers over the Alcazar, a sound
of wheels is heard below. A litter, drawn by reeking mules and covered
with mud, dashes into the street. The leather curtains are drawn aside,
and Marguerite d’Alençon, pale and shrunk with anxiety and fatigue,
attended by two ladies, having travelled from Paris day and night,
descends. Breathless with excitement, she passes quickly up the narrow
stairs, through the anteroom, and enters the King’s chamber. Alas! what
a sight awaits her. Francis lies insensible on his bed. The room is
darkened, save where a temporary altar has been erected, opposite his
bed, on which lights are burning. A Bishop officiates. The low voices of
priests, chanting as they move about the altar, alone break a death-like
silence. Marguerite, overcome by emotion, clasps her hands and sinks on
her knees beside her brother. Her sobs and cries disturb the solemn
ordinance. She is led almost fainting away. Then the Bishop approaches
the King, bearing the bread of life, and, at that moment, Francis
becomes suddenly conscious. He opens his eyes, and in a feeble voice
prays that he may be permitted to receive it. So humbly, yet so
joyfully, does he communicate that all present are deeply moved.

In spite, however, of the presence of Marguerite in Madrid, the King
relapses. He again falls into a death-like trance. Then, and then only,
does the Emperor yield to the reproaches of the Duchesse d’Alençon and
the entreaties of his ministers. He takes horse from Toledo and rides to
Madrid almost without drawing rein, until he stops at the heavy door in
the Alcazar. He mounts the stairs and enters the chamber. Francis, now
restored to consciousness, prompted by a too generous nature, opens his
arms to embrace him.

“Your Majesty has come to see your prisoner die,” says he in a feeble
voice, faintly smiling.

“No,” replies Charles, with characteristic caution and Spanish courtesy,
bowing profoundly and kissing him on either cheek; “no, your Majesty
will not die, you are no longer my prisoner; you are my friend and
brother. I come to set you free.”

“Ah, Sire,” murmurs Francis in a voice scarcely audible, “death will
accomplish that before your Majesty; but if I live--and indeed I do not
believe I shall, I am so overcome by weakness--let me implore you to
allow me to treat for my release in person with your Majesty; for this
end I came hither to Madrid.”

At this moment the conversation is interrupted by the entrance of a
page, who announces to the Emperor that the Duchesse d’Alençon has
arrived and awaits his Majesty’s pleasure. Glad of an excuse to
terminate a most embarrassing interview with his too confiding prisoner,
Charles, who has been seated on the bed, rises hastily--

“Permit me, my brother,” says he, “to leave you, in order to descend and
receive your august sister in person. In the meantime recover your
health. Reckon upon my willingness to serve you. Some other time we will
meet; then we can treat more in detail of these matters, when your
Majesty is stronger and better able to converse.”

Charles takes an affectionate leave of Francis, descends the narrow
stairs, and with much ceremony receives the Duchess.

“I rejoice, madame,” says he, “to offer you in person the homage of all
Spain, and my own hearty thanks for the courage and devotion you have
shown in the service of the King, my brother. He is a prisoner no
longer. The conditions of release shall forthwith be prepared by my
ministers.”

“Is the King fully aware what those conditions are, Sire?” Marguerite
coldly asks.

Charles was silent.

“I fear our mother, Madame Louise, Regent of France,” continues the
Duchesse d’Alençon, “may find it difficult to accept your conditions,
even though it be to liberate the Sovereign of France, her own beloved
son.”

“Madame,” replies Charles evasively, “I will not permit this occasion,
when I have the happiness of first saluting you within my realm, to be
occupied with state affairs. Rely on my desire to set my brother free.
Meanwhile the King will, I hope, recover his strength. Pressing business
now calls me back to Toledo. Adieu! most illustrious princess, to whom I
offer all that Madrid contains for your service. Permit me to kiss your
hands. Salute my brother, the King, from me. Once more, royal lady,
adieu!”

Marguerite curtseys to the ground. The Emperor, with his head uncovered,
mounts his horse, again salutes her, and attended by his retinue puts
spurs to his steed and rides from the Alcazar on his return to Toledo.
Marguerite fully understands the treachery of his words. Her heart
swelling with indignation, she slowly ascends to the King’s chamber.

“Has the Emperor departed already?” Francis eagerly asks her.

“Yes, my brother; pressing business, he says, calls him back to Toledo,”
replies Marguerite bitterly, speaking very slowly.

“What! gone so soon, before giving me an opportunity of discussing with
him the terms of my freedom. Surely, my sister, this is strange,” says
Francis, turning eagerly towards the Duchess, and then sinking back pale
and exhausted on his pillows.

Marguerite seats herself beside him, takes his hand tenderly within both
her own, and gazes at him in silence.

“But, my sister, did my brother, the Emperor, say _nothing_ to you of
his speedy return?”

“Nothing,” answers Marguerite, drily.

“Yet he assured me, with his own lips, that I was already free, and that
the conditions of release would be prepared immediately.”

“Dear brother,” says the Duchess, “has your imprisonment at Madrid, and
the conduct of the Emperor to you this long time past, inclined you to
believe what he says?”

“I, a king myself, should be grieved to doubt a brother sovereign’s
word.”

“Francis,” says Marguerite, speaking with great earnestness and fixing
her eyes on him, “what you say convinces me that you are weakened by
illness. Your naturally acute intellect is dulled by the confusion of
recent delirium. If you were in full possession of your senses you would
not speak as you do. My brother, take heed of my words--you will never
be free.”

“How,” exclaims the King, starting up, “never be free? What do you
mean?”

“Calm yourself, my brother. You are, I fear, too weak to hear what I
have to say.”

“No, no! my sister; suspense to me is worse than death. Speak to me,
Marguerite; speak to me, my sister.”

“Then, Sire, let me ask you, when you speak of release, when the Emperor
tells you you are free, are you aware of the conditions he imposes on
you?”

“Not accurately,” replies Francis. “Certain terms were proposed, before
my illness, that I should surrender whole provinces in France, renounce
my rights in the Milanese, pay an enormous ransom, leave my sons
hostages at Madrid; but these were the proposals of the Spanish council.
The Emperor, speaking personally to a brother sovereign, would never
press anything on me unbecoming my royal condition; therefore it is that
I desire to treat with himself alone.”

“Alas! my brother, you are too generous; you are deceived. Much
negotiation has passed during your illness, and since my arrival.
Conditions have been proposed by Spain to the Regent, that she--your
mother--supported by the parliament of your country, devoted to your
person, has refused. Listen to me, Francis. Charles seeks to dismember
France. As long as it remains a kingdom, he intends that you shall never
leave Madrid.”

“Marguerite, my sister, proceed, I entreat you!” breaks in Francis,
trembling with excitement.

“Burgundy is to be ceded; you are to renounce all interest in Flanders
and in the Milanese. You are to pay a ransom that will beggar the
kingdom. You are to marry Elinor, Queen Dowager of Portugal, sister to
Charles, and you are to leave your sons, the Dauphin and the Duc
d’Orléans, hostages in Spain for the fulfilment of these demands.”

Francis turns very white, and sinks back speechless on the pillows that
support him. He stretches out his arm to his sister and fondly clasps
her neck. “Marguerite, if it is so, you say well,--I shall never leave
Madrid. My sister, let me die ten thousand deaths rather than betray the
honour of France.”

“Speak not of death, dearest brother!” exclaims Marguerite, her face
suddenly flushing with excitement. “I have come to make you live. I,
Marguerite d’Alençon, your sister, am come to lead you back to your army
and to France; to the France that mourns for you; to the army that is
now dispersed and insubordinate; to the mother who weeps for her beloved
son.” Marguerite’s voice falters; she sobs aloud, and rising from her
chair, she presses her brother in her arms. Francis feebly returns her
embrace, tenderly kisses her, and signs to her to proceed. “Think you,”
continues Marguerite more calmly, and reseating herself, but still
holding the King’s hand--“think you that councils in which _Bourbon_ has
a voice----” At this name the King shudders and clenches his fist upon
the bed-clothes. “Think you that a sovereign who has treacherously lured
you to Madrid will have any mercy on you? No, my brother; unless you
agree to unworthy conditions, imposed by a treacherous monarch who
abuses his power over you, here you will languish until you die! Now
mark my words, dear brother. Treaties made under _duresse_, by _force
majeure_, are legally void. You will dissemble, my generous King--for
the sake of France, you will dissemble. You must fight this crafty
emperor with his own weapons.”

“What! my sister, be false to my word--I, a belted knight, invested by
the hands of Bayard on the field

[Illustration: THE CHEVALIER BAYARD.

AFTER A. DE NEUVILLE.

(By permission of Estes & Lauriat.)]

of Marignano, stoop to a lie? Marguerite, you are mad!”

“Oh, Francis, hear me!” cries Marguerite passionately, “hear me; on my
knees I conjure you to live, for yourself, for us, for France.” She
casts herself on the floor beside him. She wrings his hands, she kisses
his feet, her tears falling thickly. “Francis, you must, you shall
consent. By-and-by you will bless me for this tender violence. You are
not fit to meddle in this matter. Leave to me the care of your honour;
is it not my own? I come from the Regent, from the council, from all
France. Believe me, brother, if you are perjured, all Europe will
applaud the perjury.”

Marguerite, whose whole frame quivers with agitation, speaks no more.
There is a lengthened pause. The flush of fever is on the King’s face.

“My sister,” murmurs Francis, struggling with a broken voice to express
himself, “you have conquered. Into your hands I commit my honour and the
future of France. Leave me a while to rest, for I am faint.”

Treaties made under _duresse_ by _force majeure_ are legally void. The
Emperor must be decoyed into the belief that terms are accepted by
Francis, which are to be broken the instant his foot touches French
soil. It is with the utmost difficulty that the chivalrous monarch can
be brought to lend himself to this deceit. But the prayers of his
sister, the deplorable condition of his kingdom deprived of his presence
for nearly five years, the terror of returning illness, and the thorough
conviction that Charles is as perfidious as he is ambitious, at length
prevail. Francis ostensibly accepts the Emperor’s terms, and Queen
Claude being dead, he affiances himself to Charles’s sister, Elinor,
Queen Dowager of Portugal.

Francis was perjured, but France was saved.



CHAPTER VII.

LA DUCHESSE D’ÉTAMPES.


Riding with all speed from Madrid--for he fears the Emperor’s
perfidy--Francis has reached the frontier of Spain, on the banks of the
river Bidassoa. His boys--the Dauphin and the Duc d’Orléans, who are to
replace him at Madrid as hostages--await him there. They rush into their
father’s arms and fondly cling to him, weeping bitterly at this cruel
meeting for a moment after years of separation. Francis, with ready
sympathy, mingles his tears with theirs. He embraces and blesses them.
But, wild with the excitement of liberty and insecure while on Spanish
soil, he cannot spare time for details. He hands the poor lads over to
the Spanish commissioners. Too impatient to await the arrival of the
ferry-boat, which is pulling across the river, he steps into the waters
of the Bidassoa to meet it. On the opposite bank, among the low scrub
wood, a splendid retinue awaits him. He springs into the saddle, waves
his cap in the air, and with a joyous shout exclaims, “Now I am a king!
Now I am free!”

The political vicissitudes of Francis’s reign are as nothing to the
chaos of his private life; only as a lover he was never defeated. No
humiliating Pavia arrests his successful course. At Bayonne he finds a
brilliant Court; his mother the Regent, and his sister Marguerite, await
his arrival. After “Les embrasseurs d’usage,” as Du Bellay quaintly
expresses it, the King’s eye wanders over the parterre of young beauties
assembled in their suite, “la petite bande des dames de la Cour.” Then
Francis first beholds Anne de Pisselieu, afterwards Duchesse d’Étampes.
No one can compare to her in the tyranny of youth, beauty, and talent. A
mere girl, she already knows everything, and is moreover astute, witty,
and false. In spite of the efforts of Diane de Poitiers to attract the
King (she having come to Bayonne in attendance on the Regent-mother),
Anne de Pisselieu prevails. The King is hers. He delights in her joyous
sallies. Anne laughs at every one and everything, specially at the
pretensions of Madame Diane, whom she calls “an old hag.” She declares
that she herself was born on Diane’s wedding-day!

Who can resist so bewitching a creature? Not Francis certainly. So the
Court divides itself into two factions in love, politics, and religion.
One party, headed by the Duchesse d’Étampes--a Protestant, and mistress
of the reigning monarch; a second by Madame Diane de Poitiers--a
Catholic, who, after many efforts, finding the King inaccessible,
devotes herself to his son, Prince Henry, a mere boy, at least twenty
years younger than herself, and waits his reign. Oddly enough, it is the
older woman who waits, and the younger one who rules.

The Regent-mother looks on approvingly. Morals, especially royal morals,
do not exist. Madame Louise de Savoie is ambitious. She would not see
the new Spanish Queen--a comely princess, as she hears from her daughter
Marguerite--possess too much influence over the King. It might injure
her own power. The poor Spanish Queen! No fear that her influence will
injure any one! The King never loves her, and never forgives her being
forced upon him as a clause in the ignominious treaty of Madrid.
Besides, she is thirty-two years old and a widow; grave, dignified, and
learned, but withal a lady of agreeable person, though of mature and
well-developed charms. Elinor admired and loved Francis when she saw him
at Madrid, and all the world thought that the days were numbered in
which Madame d’Étampes would be seen at Court. “But,” says Du Bellay,
either with perfect naiveté or profound irony--“it was impossible for
the King to offer to the virtuous Spanish princess any other sentiments
than respect and gratitude, the Duchesse d’Étampes being sole mistress
of his heart!” So the royal lady fares no better than Queen Claude,
“with the roses in her soul,” and only receives, like her, courtesy and
indifference.

The King returns to the Spanish frontier to receive Queen Elinor and to
embrace the sons, now released, to whom she has been a true mother
during the time they have been hostages at Madrid.

By-and-by the Queen’s brother--that mighty and perfidious sovereign,
Charles V., Emperor of Germany--passing to his estates in the
Netherlands, “craves leave of his beloved brother, Francis, King of
France, to traverse his kingdom on his way,” so great is his dread of
the sea voyage on account of sickness.

[Illustration: QUEEN ELINOR.]

Some days before the Emperor’s arrival Francis is at the Louvre. He has
repaired and embellished it in honour of his guest, and has pulled down
the central tower, or donjon, called “Philippine,” which encumbered the
inner court. By-and-by he will pull down all the mediæval fortress, and,
assisted by Lescot, begin the palace known as the “Old Louvre.”

Francis is seated _tête-à-tête_ with the Duchesse d’Étampes. The room is
small--a species of boudoir or closet. It is hung with rare tapestry,
representing in glowing colours the Labours of Hercules. Venetian
mirrors, in richly carved frames, fling back the light of a central
chandelier, also of Venetian workmanship, cunningly wrought into gaudy
flowers, diamonded pendants, and true lovers’ knots. It is a blaze of
brightness and colour. Rich velvet hangings, heavy with gold embroidery,
cover the narrow windows and hang over the low doors. The King and the
Duchess sit beside a table of inlaid marble, supported on a pedestal,
marvellously gilt, of Italian workmanship, on which are laid fruits,
wines, and _confitures_, served in golden vessels worked in the
Cinque-cento style, after Cellini’s patterns. Beside themselves,
Triboulet,[5] the king’s fool, alone is present. As Francis holds out
his cup time after time to Triboulet, who replenishes it with Malvoisie,
the scene composes itself into a perfect picture, such as Victor Hugo
has imagined in _Le Roi s’amuse_; so perfect, indeed, that Francis might
have sung, “La donna è mobile,” as he now does in Verdi’s opera of
_Rigoletto_.

“Sire,” says the Duchess, her voice dropping into a most delicious
softness, “do you leave us to-morrow?”

The King bows his head and kisses her jewelled fingers.

“So you persist in going to meet your brother, the Emperor Charles, your
loving brother of Spain, whom I hate because he was so cruel to you at
Madrid.” The Duchess looks up and smiles. Her eyes are beautiful, but
hard and cruel. She wears an ermine mantle, for it is winter; her dress
is of the richest green satin, embroidered with gold. On her head is a
golden net, the meshes sprinkled with diamonds, from which her dark
tresses escape in long ringlets over her shoulders.

Francis turns towards her and pledges her in a cup of Malvoisie. The
corners of his mouth are drawn up into a cynical smile, almost to his
nostrils. He has now reached middle life, and his face at that time
would have made no man’s fortune.

“Duchess,” says he, “I must tear myself from you. I go to-morrow to
Touraine. Before returning to Paris, I shall attend my brother the
Emperor Charles at Loches, then at Amboise on the Loire. You will soon
follow me with the Queen.”

“And, surely, when you have this heartless king, this cruel gaoler in
your power, you will punish him and revenge yourself? If he, like a
fool, comes into Touraine, make him revoke the treaty of Madrid, or shut
him up in one of Louis XI.’s _oubliettes_ at Amboise or Loches.”

“I will _persuade_ him, if I can, to liberate me from all the remaining
conditions of the treaty,” said the King, “but I will never _force_
him.” As he speaks Triboulet, who has been shaking the silver bells on
his parti-coloured dress with suppressed laughter, pulls out some ivory
tablets to add something to a list he keeps of those whom he considers
greater fools than himself. He calls it “his journal.”

The King looks at the tablets and sees the name of Charles V.

“Ha! ha! by the mass!--how long has my brother of Spain figured there?”
asks he.

“The day, Sire, that I heard he had put his foot on the French
frontier.”

“What will you do when I let him depart freely?”

“I shall,” said Triboulet, “rub out his name and put yours in its place,
Sire.”

“See, your Majesty, there is some one else who agrees with me,” said the
Duchess, laughing.

“I know,” replies Francis, “that my interests would almost force me to
do as you desire, madame, but my honour is dearer to me than my
interests. I am now at liberty,--I had rather the treaty of Madrid
should stand for ever than countenance an act unworthy of ‘un roi
chevalier.’ ”

Francis receives Charles V. at Amboise with ostentatious splendour.
Aware of the repugnance of his royal guest to mount steps (the Spanish
Emperor was early troubled by those attacks of gout that caused him at
length to abdicate and to die of premature old age, at the monastery of
San Juste), Francis caused an inclined plane or slope to be constructed
in place of stairs within one of the round towers by which the Castle of
Amboise, standing on a precipitous pile of rocks, is approached. Up
this slope, which remains in excellent preservation, Charles ascends to
the plateau on which the castle stands, seated in his ponderous coach,
drawn by heavy horses, attended by guards and outriders. Elinor, his
sister, the neglected Queen, as well as the favourite, Madame d’Étampes,
are present at the fêtes given in honour of the Emperor. There are no
secrets at Court, and Charles soon comes to know that the _maîtresse en
titre_ is his enemy. One evening, after a dance executed by Anne
d’Étampes along with the ladies of the Court, in which she displayed the
graces of her person, the Emperor approaches her.

“Madame,” he says, “it is only in France that I have seen such
perfection of elegance and beauty. My brother, the King, would be the
envy of all the sovereigns of Europe could they have witnessed what I
have just seen. There is no ransom that I would accept for such a
captive, had I the power of retaining her at Madrid.”

The Emperor’s eyes melt with admiration as he gazes on her.

The Duchess’s countenance beams with delight at the Emperor’s high-flown
compliment.

The King approaches the spot where they stand.

“Know, my brother,” says the King with a slight touch of irony in his
tone, for he is displeased at the tender glances Charles is casting on
his favourite, “know that this fair Duchess would have had me detain you
here a prisoner until you had revoked the treaty of Madrid.”

The Emperor starts visibly and frowns. “If you consider the advice good,
your Majesty had better

[Illustration: CHÂTEAU OF AMBOISE.]

follow it,” he replies haughtily, turning away to address some nobles
standing near.

Some few days afterwards the Duchess gives a supper in her apartments,
to which the Emperor and the Court are invited. After the reception,
sinking on her knees, she presents his Majesty with rose-water in a gold
embossed basin in which to wash his hands. Charles adroitly drops a
large diamond ring into the basin. The Duchess stoops and places the
vessel on the ground in order to pick up the jewel.

“This ring, madame,” he says, and he speaks low, and leans forward in
order to catch her ear, “is too becoming to that fair hand for me to
remove it. It has itself sought a new possessor,” and he kisses her
hand. “Keep it as a pledge of my admiration and my friendship.”

The Duchess rises and makes a deep obeisance. Not only did she keep the
ring, but she became so decided a partisan of this “_gaoler_,” that she
is popularly accused of having betrayed Francis to the Emperor;
specially in the subsequent wars between England, France, and Spain.



CHAPTER VIII.

LAST DAYS.


Rambouillet is now a station on the railway between Versailles,
Chartres, and Le Mans. It is a sunny little town, sloping to the south,
in a sheltered hollow, over which the slanting roofs and conical turrets
of the palace rise out of stately elms and spiked poplars. The
principal façade of the château--which consists of two wings at right
angles to each other, having at each corner a circular turret,
surmounted by a spire--faces the mid-day sun. The ground lies low, and
canals, extending in three directions, bordered by terraced walks and
avenues, intersect the grassy lawns which lengthen into the tangled
woodland of the surrounding forest. Opposite the château, on an islet,
is a grotto called “La Marmite de Rabelais.” To the right, the three
canals flow into a river, spanned by a low bridge, known as “the
accursed bridge,” from some now obscure tradition foreboding evil to
those who pass over it. On every other side, the trunks of venerable
trees, their overarching branches closing above like a cloister--pillars
of oak, elm, and ash--wind away into grassy meads and shady dingles,
intersected by long rides cut straight through the forest, proper for
the stag-hunts which have been held in this ancient manor since the
Middle Ages.

The château itself has now been modernised, save where one ivy-crowned
round tower (the donjon of the mediæval fortress), in deep shadow,
frowns an angry defiance to the stucco and whitewash of the flimsy
modern façade.

It is the month of March, in the year 1547. Francis, attended by a small
retinue, has arrived at the foot of this round tower. Coming from the
south, he has crossed the river by “the accursed bridge.”

During the whole past year he has wandered from place to place,
revisiting all his favourite haunts as though conscious that he is
bidding them farewell. The restlessness of mortal disease is upon him.
Though he flies from city to hamlet, from castle to palace, vainly
seeking respite from pain, death haunts and follows him. His life is
agony. He is greatly changed--an internal fever consumes him. His eyes
are haggard; his face is thin, and his body emaciated. Only fifty-two
years old, like his great rival the Emperor Charles, he is prematurely
aged. Now he is half lifted from his coach and slowly led up a winding
staircase to his apartments on the second floor by his friend James
d’Angennes, to whose ancestors Rambouillet belonged. Francis comes from
Chambord, where Marguerite, now Queen of Navarre by her second marriage,
met him. Marguerite and her brother still cling to each other, but they
are both aged and full of care. Her beauty is faded and her health is
broken. Even she, though devoted as ever, cannot amuse Francis or
dissipate the weight that oppresses his spirit. The old topics that were
wont to delight him are irritably dismissed. He no longer cares for
poetry, is wearied of politics, shrinks from society, and abuses women.
It is at this time he writes with the point of a diamond, on the window
of his closet at Chambord, these significant lines:--

    “Souvent femme varie;
     Mal habile qui s’y fie!”

He can only talk to his sister on sorrowful subjects: of the death by
plague of his favourite son Charles, who caught the infection when
sleeping at Abbeville; or of his old friend, Henry VIII. of England, who
has also recently died.

The death of the latter seems to affect Francis terribly. “Our lives,”
he says, “were very similar--he was slightly older, but I shall not
long survive him.” Vainly does Marguerite combat these dismal
forebodings. She laments in secret the sad change. Ever sympathetic with
her brother, she, too, throws aside romance and poetry and composes “The
Mirror of a Sinful Soul,” to suit his altered humour. Alas! what would
Marguerite say if she knew what is carefully concealed from her? That
the great surgeon Paré--Paré, who was afterwards to draw the spear-point
from the cheek of the Balafré--has pronounced that the King’s malady is
hopeless!

After a short sojourn together at Chambord, the brother and sister part
never to meet again.

Francis was to have passed the carnival at Limours, says Du Bellay; now
he commands the masked balls and the court ballets to be held at
Saint-Germain en Laye. The King’s fancy changes; he will rouse himself;
he will shake off the horrible lethargy that is creeping over him; he
will dismiss sinister presentiments. Disguised himself, he will dance
among the maskers--the excitement will revive him.

But strong as is his will, high as is his courage, the mortal disease
within him is stronger still. Suddenly he countermands all his orders.
He will rather go to Rambouillet to visit his old friend, D’Angennes; to
meet Rabelais perhaps, who loves the old castle, and to hunt in the
great woods.

The quiet old manor, half hunting-lodge, half fortress, buried in
secluded woods just bursting into leaf, where the wild boar and the stag
are plentiful, will suit him better than banquets, balls, games, and
boisterous revelry. The once dauntless Francis is grown nervous and
querulous, and is painfully

[Illustration: DUCHESSE D’ÉTAMPES.]

conscious of the slightest noise. After a rapid journey he crosses the
ill-omened bridge and arrives at Rambouillet. No sooner has he been laid
in his bed than again his mind changes. He must rise and go to
Saint-Germain, more suitable than Rambouillet in accommodation for his
present condition. But the intense anguish he suffers renders his
project impossible. Well, he will remain. He will rest one night here;
then, he will depart. In the morning, says the same historian, he awakes
at daylight, feeling somewhat better. He commands a royal hunt for stags
and boars. Once more he hears the bugle of the huntsmen, the baying of
the hounds, the tramp of the impatient steeds. The fresh morning air
gives him fictitious strength. He rises from his bed, dresses himself,
descends, forces himself on horseback and rides forth, defying disease
and pain. Alas! he is soon brought back to the donjon tower and carried
up the stairs speechless and in mortal agony to his bed. Fever and
delirium ensue, but as the death shadows gather round him weakness
clears his brain.

“I am dying,” says he, faintly, addressing D’Angennes, who never leaves
him for an instant; “send for my son Henry.”

“Sire,” replies the Count, “his highness is already here.”

“Let him come to me at once; my breath fails me fast.”

The Prince enters and kneels beside the dying King. He weeps bitterly,
takes his father’s already cold hand in his own and kisses it. Francis
feebly returns the pressure. He turns his sunken eyes towards his son
and signs that he would speak. Henry, the better to catch his words,
rises and bends over him.

“My son, I have been a great sinner,” falters the dying King, “my
passions led me astray; avoid this, Henry. If I have done well, follow
that, not the evil.”

“Sire,” replies the Prince, “we all love and honour your Majesty.”

“Cherish France, my son,” continues the King; “it is a noble nation.
They refused me nothing in my adversity, nor will they you, if you rule
them rightly. Lighten the taxes, my son,--be good to my people.”

His voice grows fainter and less distinct, his face more ashen.

The Prince, seeing his lips move, but hearing no sound, lays his ear
close to his father’s mouth.

“Commend me to Catherine, your wife; beware of the Guises; they will
strip you; they are all traitors[6]; cherish my people.” He spoke no
more.

The Prince motions to D’Angennes, and the parish priest with his
acolytes enters, bearing the Host. Speechless, but conscious, with a
look of infinite devotion, Francis receives the sacraments. Then,
turning his dying eyes towards his son, he feebly raises his hands to
bless him.

Henry, overcome by the sight of his dying father, sinks prostrate beside
the bed. D’Angennes stands at the head, supporting his dying master in
his arms; while he wipes the moisture from his forehead, Francis
expires.



CHAPTER IX.

CATHERINE DE’ MEDICI.


Catherine de’ Medici, widow of Henry II., and mother of three kings
regnant, rules France in their name. Her father, Lorenzo, Duke of
Urbino, second tyrant of Florence, died before she was born; her mother,
Madaleine de la Tour d’Auvergne (for Catherine had French blood in her
veins), died when she was born; so fatal was this Medici, even at her
birth.

The _Duchessina_, as Catherine was called, was reared by her aunt
Clarice Sforza, within the mediæval stronghold of the Medici at
Florence--now known as the Riccardi Palace. Although bereft of palisade
and towers of defence, it is still a stately pile of Italian Gothic
architecture, with pillared cortile, ornate front, and sculptured
cornice, bidding a mute defiance to the encroachments of the modern
buildings of the Via Cavour, the Corso of the City of Flowers.

Catherine was educated by the nuns of the “Murate” (walled up), in their
convent near the Porta Santa Croce. The teaching of these lonely
enthusiasts strangely contrasted with the life she afterwards led in the
Florentine Court--a very hot-bed of vice, intrigue, and ambition. There
did this Medea of the Cinque-cento learn how to dissimulate and to
betray. At fifteen she became, by the favour of her uncle, Pope Clement
VII., the richest heiress in Europe. She was tall and finely formed, of
a clear olive complexion (inherited from her French mother), with
well-cut features, and large, prominent eyes, like all the Medici. Her
manners were gracious, her countenance expressive, but there was, even
in extreme youth, a fixed and cold expression on the statuesque face
that belied these pleasant attributes. Many suitors sought her hand, but
Clement VII., outraged at the brutality of the Spanish coalition against
him under Charles V., which had resulted in the sack of Rome and his own
imprisonment in the Castle of St. Angelo, was glad to spite his enemies
by bestowing his wealthy niece on the Duc d’Orléans, son of Francis I.
As the heiress of the Medici came of a republican race of merchant
princes, mere mushrooms beside the lofty antiquity of the Valois line,
the Pope, to give greater lustre to the espousals, announced that he
would himself conduct his niece to her future husband. At Leghorn,
Catherine embarked with her uncle in a sumptuous papal galley, attended
by his tonsured Court. A flotilla of boats accompanied the vice-regent
of God upon earth, and his niece, the sparkling _Duchessina_. Fair winds
and smooth seas soon wafted them to the French shore, where Francis and
his sons awaited their arrival at Marseilles.

Francis, says Brantôme, was so charmed with the Medici bride, her
intelligence and lively manners, that he romped with her the entire
evening after her arrival. When Francis found that she danced admirably,
that she shot with an arquebuse like a trooper, played at _maille_ like
a boy, and rode boldly and gracefully, his partiality to his new
daughter-in-law knew no bounds. What was the opinion of the

[Illustration: CHÂTEAU DE CHAMBORD.]

bridegroom Orléans, and what comparison he made between a bride of
fifteen and a mistress of thirty-five, is not recorded. There was nearly
twenty years difference in age between Prince Henry, Duc d’Orléans, a
mere boy, and Diane de Poitiers, yet her influence over him was still
absolute. To the day of his death he wore her colours--white and
black--upon his shield. Diane, secure in power, was rather proud of her
age. She boasted to the new Duchess that she was never ill, that she
rose at six o’clock in the morning, bathed in the coldest water, and
rode two hours before breakfast.

When Catherine first appeared at the Louvre as the bride of Prince
Henry, she _seemed_ but a clever, facile girl, ready to accept her
humiliating position as subordinate in power, influence, and beauty to
her husband’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, as well as to the Duchesse
d’Étampes, the favourite of Francis. Placed among these two women and
the lonely Spanish Queen, Elinor of Portugal, for fourteen years she
acquitted herself with the most perfect temper and discretion. Indeed,
with strange self-command in one so young, she endeavoured to flatter
both the favourites, but failing to propitiate either Diane or the
Duchess, and not being able to attract her husband or to interest the
sedate Spaniard, she devoted herself wholly to charm her father-in-law,
Francis. She became the constant and beloved companion of his various
progresses and hunting-parties to Fontainebleau, Amboise, Chenonceau,
and Loches. No court pageants these, on ambling pads over smooth lawns,
among limber trees, with retinue of velvet-liveried menials on the watch
for any possible casualty; but hard and dangerous riding in search of
boars, and wolves, and stags, over a rough country, among thick
underwood, rocky hills, and precipitous uplands.

Thus Catherine _seemed_; but in her heart she despised the Duchess,
abhorred Diane, and suffered all the mortification of a neglected wife.
Diane did not moreover spare her feelings, but insolently and
ostentatiously paraded her superior influence, especially after Prince
Henry came to the throne and created her Duchesse de Valentinois.

Catherine, however, with marvellous self-command bore all meekly,
brought the King ten children, and for fourteen years bided her time.
And that time came sooner than either the wife or the mistress expected.



CHAPTER X.

A FATAL JOUST.


It is the wedding-day of the two princesses, Elizabeth and Marguerite;
the first a daughter, the latter a sister, of Henry II. A tournament is
to be held in the Rue Saint-Antoine, near the Palace des Tournelles, so
called from its many towers.[7]

King Henry and the elder princes, his sons, are to ride in the lists and
to break a lance freely with all comers. Queen Catherine and the
brides--Elizabeth, the very youthful wife of the morose Philip II. of
Spain, lately husband of Mary Tudor, known as Bloody Mary, now deceased;
Marguerite, wife of the Duke of Savoy, and Marguerite de Valois, second
daughter of Catherine, then but a child--are seated in the centre of an
open dais covered with damascened silk, and ornamented with feathers,
tassels and gaudy streamers, which flutter in the summer breeze. Behind
them are ranged the greatest ladies of the Court, among whom Diane de
Poitiers, now Duchesse de Valentinois, occupies the place of honour. The
ladies in waiting on the Queen and the great officers of state are
ranged at the back.

It is a lovely morning in the month of July. The summer sun lights up
the gay dresses and fair faces of the Court into a glowing parterre of
bright colours. At a signal from Queen Catherine bands of wind
instruments burst into martial music; the combatants enter the arena and
divide themselves into different squadrons. First rides the King at the
head of his knights. His appearance is the signal for all to rise, as
much out of respect to him as the better to observe his chivalrous
bearing and magnificent accoutrements. He wears a suit of armour in
which gold is the chief metal. His sword-handle and dagger are set with
jewels, and from his shield and lance fly streamers of black and
white--the colours of Diane de Poitiers. He rides a Spanish barb,
caparisoned with crimson velvet, that tosses his head and curvets
proudly, as if conscious of its royal burden. Three times the King
passes round the list within the barriers, preceded by pages and
esquires bearing shields bound with ribbons, on which are engraven, in
letters of gold or of gems, the initials of their masters’ ladye-loves.
The King is followed by squadrons of knights. All range themselves near
the open dais occupied by the queens and the princesses.

A herald in a parti-coloured dress advances into the centre of the open
space, and to the sound of trumpet proclaims that the lists are open.
The barriers are then lowered by the pages and the esquires, and the
tilting begins.

Catherine looks on with a troubled countenance. Her eyes incessantly
follow the King and watch his every movement. As knight after knight is
unhorsed and rolls in the dust, and loud cries and shouts of laughter
rise at each discomfiture above the tumult of the fight, the anxious
expression on her face never changes. Now and then, when the King,
excited by the mimic warfare, deals and receives hard blows and vigorous
lance thrusts, Catherine visibly trembles. Like the wife of Pilate, “she
has suffered much because of a dream concerning him”--a dream that has
shown him to her, disfigured and dabbled with blood, lying dead in a
strange chamber.

In the early morning she had implored the King not to enter the lists,
but Henry had laughed and had ridden forth wearing the colours of her
rival.

Now the long day is drawing to a close; the sun is low on the horizon
and the tournament is over. The King, who has fought like the son of
Francis I., and broken the lances of the Ducs de Ferrara, Guise, and
Nemours, has retired from the lists into his tent to unarm. The young
princes have dismounted and ascended into the dais beside their mother
and the brides. Catherine breathes again; the King is safe--her dream
but the coinage of her brain! But hark! the faint sound of a trumpet is
heard, proceeding from the extremity of the long street of
Saint-Antoine. The Queen grows pale and bends her ear to listen. The
sound comes nearer; it becomes more distinct at each fresh blast. Now it
is at hand, and as the shrill and ill-omened notes strike her ear, a
herald advances preceded by a trumpeter, and announces that a masked
knight has arrived and challenges his Majesty to break a lance with him
in honour of his lady.

The masked knight, habited entirely in black armour, rides into the
arena. Certain of the fatal event, the Queen rises abruptly from her
seat. Her countenance expresses absolute terror. She beckons hastily to
the Comte d’O, who is in attendance. “Go,” says she in a low voice,
speaking rapidly; “go at once to the King. Tell him if he fights with
this stranger he will die!--tell him so from me. Haste! for the love of
the Virgin, haste!”

No sooner has the Comte d’O left her, than, leaning over the dais,
Catherine, with clasped hands and eager eyes, watches him as he crosses
the enclosure. She sees him parley with the King, who is replacing his
casque and arranging his armour. Henry laughs. The Queen turns to the
young Comte de la Molle, who is near--“Call up hither his Majesty to me
instantly. Tell him he must come up to me here before he enters the
lists. It is for life or death--the life of the King. Go! fly!”

This second messenger crosses to where Henry is just mounting on
horseback. “Alas! alas! he does not heed my messenger. Let me go,” cries
the Queen in the most violent agitation; “I will myself descend and
speak with his Majesty.” She rushes forward through the astonished
courtiers to where a flight of steps leads below into the enclosure. As
her foot is on the topmost stair, she sees the King gallop forth, fully
equipped, in face of the masked knight. The Queen is ashy pale, her
large eyes are fixed on the King, her white lips tremble. She stands
motionless, supported by the balustrade. Her daughters, the brides, and
her ladies gather round her, full of wonder. By a great effort she
masters her agitation, and slowly turns back into a retiring-room behind
the dais, and seats herself on her chair of state. Then with solemn
gesture she addresses herself to the princesses--

“Elizabeth, my daughter, and you, Marguerite, come hither. My sons,
Francis and Charles, come to me all of you quickly.” At her invitation
they assemble around her in astonishment. “Alas! my children, you are
all orphans and I am a widow. I have seen it. It is true. Now, while I
speak, the lance is pointed that will pierce the King. Your father must
die, my children. I know it and I cannot save him.”

While they all press with pitying looks around her, trying to console
yet unable to comprehend her meaning, she slowly rises. “Let us, my
children,” says she in a hollow voice, “pray for the King’s soul.” She
casts herself on the ground and folds her hands in silent prayer. Her
children kneel around her. There is a great silence. Then a loud cry is
heard from below--“The King is wounded; the King is unhorsed; the King
bleeds; _en avant_ to the King!” Catherine rises. She is calm now and
perfectly composed. She approaches the wooden steps leading into the
arena below. There she sees, stretched on the ground, the King
insensible, his face bathed in blood, pierced in the eye by the lance of
the masked knight, who has fled. Henry is mortally wounded, and is
borne, as the Queen saw in her dream, into a strange chamber in the
Palace des Tournelles, hard by. After some days of horrible agony he
expires, aged forty-one. The masked knight struck but a random blow, and
was held innocent of all malice. He was the Sieur de Montgomeri,
ancestor of the present Earls of Eglinton.



CHAPTER XI.

THE WIDOWED QUEEN.


Even while the King lay dying, Catherine gave a taste of her vindictive
character by ordering Diane de Poitiers instantly to quit the Louvre; to
deliver up the crown jewels; and to make over the possession of the
Château of Chenonceau, in Touraine, to herself. Chenonceau was
Catherine’s “Naboth’s vineyard.” From a girl, when she had often visited
it in company with her father-in-law, Francis, she had longed to possess
this lovely woodland palace, beside the clear waters of the river Cher.
To her inexpressible disgust, her husband, when he became King,
presented it to “the old hag,” Diane, Duchesse de Valentinois.

When Diane, sitting lonely at the Louvre, for Henry II. was dying at the
Palace des Tournelles received the Queen’s message, she turned
indignantly to the messenger and angrily asked, “Is the King then dead?”
“No, madame, but his wound is pronounced mortal; he cannot last out the
day.”

“Tell the Queen,” said Diane haughtily, “that her reign has not yet
begun. I am mistress over her and the kingdom as long as the King lives.
If he dies I care little how much she insults me. I shall be too
wretched even to heed her.”

As Regent, Catherine’s real character appeared. She revelled in power.
Gifted with a masculine understanding and a thorough aptitude for state
business, she was also inscrutable, stern, and cruel. She believed in no
one, and had faith in nothing save the prediction of astrologers and the
course of the stars, to which she gave unquestioning belief. As in the
days of her girlhood, Catherine (always armed with a concealed dagger,
its blade dipped in poison) traded on the weaknesses of those around
her. She intrigued when she could not command, and fascinated the victim
she dared not attack. All who stood in the way of her ambition were
“_removed_.” None can tell how many she hurried to an untimely grave.
The direful traditions of her race, the philters, the perfumes, the
powders, swift and deadly poisons, were imported by her into France. Her
cunning hands could infuse death into the fairest and the freshest
flowers. She had poisons for gloves and handkerchiefs, for the folds of
royal robes, for the edge of gemmed drinking cups, for rich and savory
dishes. She stands accused of having poisoned the Queen of Navarre,
mother of Henry IV.,[8] in a pair of gloves; and, spite of the trial
and execution of Sebastian Montecucolli, she was held guilty of having
compassed the death of her brother-in-law, the Dauphin, in a cup of
water, thus opening the throne for her husband and herself.

Within her brain, fertile in evil, was conceived the massacre of St.
Bartholomew--to exceed the horrors of the Sicilian Vespers under John of
Procida--the plan of which she discussed years before the event with
Philip II. and his minister, the Duke of Alva, whom she met at Bayonne,
when she visited there her daughter, Elizabeth of Spain. Catherine was
true to no party and faithful to no creed. During her long government
she cajoled alike Catholics and Protestants. She balanced Guise against
Coligni, and Condé against Navarre, as suited her immediate purpose.
Provided the end she proposed was attained, she cared nothing for the
means. Although attached to her children in infancy, before supreme
power had come within her grasp, she did not hesitate to sacrifice them
later to her political intrigues.

For her youngest daughter--the bewitching Marguerite, frail Queen of
Navarre--she cared not at all. Her autobiography is filled with details
of her mother’s falseness and unkindness. As to her sons, all--save
Francis, who died at eighteen--were initiated early into vice. Their
hands were soon red with blood. Long before they reached manhood they
were steeped in debauchery and left the cares of government entirely to
their mother. Her Court--an oasis of delight and artistic repose, in an
age of bloodshed (for Catherine was a true Medici, and loved artists and
the art, splendour and expenditure)--was as fatal as the gardens of
Armida to virtue, truth, and honour. She surrounded herself with
dissipated nobles, subservient courtiers, venal nymphs, and impure
enchantresses, all ready to barter their souls and bodies in the service
of their Queen. The names of the forty noble demoiselles by whom
Catherine was always attended, are duly recorded by Brantôme.

“Know, my cousin,” said the Queen, speaking to the Duc de Guise, “that
my maids of honour are the best allies of the royal cause.”

She imported ready-witted Italians, actors and singers, who played at a
theatre within the Hôtel Bourbon at Paris; _saltimbanques_ and
rope-dancers, who paraded the streets; astrologers, like Ruggiero;
jewellers, like Zametti; and bankers, like Gondi. These men were ready
to sell themselves for any infamy; to call on the stars for confirmation
of their prophesies; to tempt spendthrift princes with ample supply of
ready cash; to insinuate themselves into the confidence of unwary
nobles; all to serve their royal mistress as spies.

A woman of such powerful mind, infinite resource, and unscrupulous will,
overawed and oppressed her children. During the three successive reigns
of her sons, Francis II., Charles IX., and Henry III., Catherine ruled
with the iron hand of a mediæval despot. Yet her cruelty, perfidy, and
statescraft, were worse than useless. She lived to see the chivalric
race of Valois degraded; her favourite child Anjou, Henry III., driven
like a dog from Paris, by Henri de Guise; and son after son go down
childless to a dishonoured grave.



CHAPTER XII.

MARY STUART AND HER HUSBAND.


Francis II., aged sixteen, eldest son of Henry II., is nominally King of
France. He is gentle and affectionate (strange qualities for a son of
Catherine), well principled, and not without understanding. Born with a
feeble constitution and badly educated, he lacks vigour both of mind and
body to grasp the reigns of government in a period so stormy--a period
when Guise is at variance with Condé, and the nation is distracted
between Catholic and Protestant intrigues. Though yet a boy, Francis is
married to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, daughter of James V. and Mary
of Lorraine, and niece to the Duc de Guise and the Cardinal de Lorraine.

Francis and Mary have known each other from earliest childhood. At the
age of five the little Scottish Princess was sent to the Louvre to be
educated with her royal cousins. Even at that tender age she was the
delight and wonder of the Court--a little northern rosebud, transplanted
into a southern climate, by-and-by to expand into a perfect flower. Her
sweet temper, beauty, and winning manners gained all hearts. She was,
moreover, says Brantôme, quiet, discreet, and accomplished.
Accomplished, indeed, as well as learned, for, at fourteen, the
fascinating girl recited a Latin oration of her own composition in the
great gallery of the Louvre, before her future father-in-law, King
Henry, and the whole Court, to the effect “that women ought to rival,
if not to excel, men in learning.” She spoke with such composure, her
voice was so melodious, her gesture so graceful, and her person so
lovely, that the King publicly embraced her, and swore a great oath that
she alone was fit to marry with the Dauphin. Forthwith he betrothed her
to his son Francis. This marriage between a youth and a girl yet in
their teens was a dream of love, short, but without alloy.

Catherine rules, and Francis and Mary Stuart, too young and careless to
desire any life but a perpetual holiday in each others company, tremble
at her frown and implicitly obey her.

Now and then Mary’s maternal uncles, the princes of Lorraine, Francis,
the great Duc de Guise (the same who took Calais and broke the English
Queen’s heart), and the Cardinal de Lorraine, the proudest and falsest
prelate in the sacred college,[9] endeavour to traverse the designs of
Catherine, and to inspire their beautiful niece with a taste for
intrigue--under their guidance, be it well understood. But all such
attempts are useless. Mary loves poetry and music, revels in banquets
and masques, hunts and games, and toys with her boy-husband, of whose
society she never wearies.

Nevertheless, the Queen-mother hates her, accuses her of acting the part
of a spy for her uncles, the Guises, and, sneering, speaks of her as
“une petite reinette qui fait tourner toutes les tétes.”

The Court is at Amboise, that majestic castle planted on a pile of
sombre rocks that cast gloomy shadows across the waters of the Loire,
widened at this spot into the magnitude of a lake, the river being
divided by an island and crossed by two bridges.

Over these bridges they come, a glittering procession, preceded by
archers and attended by pages and men-at-arms. Francis rides in front;
he is tall, slight, and elegantly formed, and sits his horse with
elegant grace. His grey, almond-shaped eyes sparkle as he turns them
upon the young Queen riding at his side. Mary is seated on a dark
palfrey. She is dressed in a white robe, fastened from the neck
downwards with jewelled buttons. The robe itself is studded with gold
embroidery and trimmed with ermine. A ruff of fine lace, and a chain of
gold, from which hangs a medallion, are round her slender throat. Her
hair is drawn back from her forehead, and a little pointed cap, set with
jewels, to which is attached a thin white veil falling behind, sets off
the chiselled features, the matchless eyes, and exquisite complexion of
her fair young face.

Catherine and the Duc de Guise, the Cardinal de Lorraine and the Duc de
Nemours follow. Behind them the gay multitude of a luxurious Court fills
up the causeway. Francis has a prepossessing face, but looks pale and
ill. As they ride, side by side, Mary watches him with tender anxiety.
Her sweet eyes rest on him as she speaks, and she caressingly places her
hand upon his saddle-bow as they ascend the rocky steep leading to the
castle.

When they dismount, the Queen-mother--her hard face set into a
frown--passes, without speaking a word, into her own apartments. The Duc
de Guise and the Cardinal de Lorraine also retire with gloomy looks. Not
a single word do either of them address to Francis or to Mary. The
young sovereigns enter the royal chambers, a stately suite of
apartments, the lofty windows of which, reaching from ceiling to floor,
overlook the river. Folding doors open into a gallery wainscoted with
oak richly gilt, with a carved ceiling richly emblazoned with
coats-of-arms. The walls are covered with crimson brocade set in heavy
frames of carved gold; chandeliers of glittering pendants hang from open
rafters formed of various-coloured wood arranged in mosaic patterns.
Beyond is a retiring room, hung with choice tapestry of flowers and
fruit on a violet ground, let into arabesque borders of white and gold.
Inlaid tables of marble bear statues and tazzas of alabaster and enamel.
Clustered candelabra of coloured Venetian glass hold perfumed candles,
and the flowers of the spring are placed in cups and vases of rarest
pottery.

Mary, with a wave of her hand, dismisses her attendants. Francis sinks
into a chair beside an open window, utterly exhausted. He sighs, leans
back his head, and closes his eyes.

“_Mon amour_,” says Mary, throwing her arms round him, and kissing his
white lips, “you are very weary. Tell me--why is the Queen-mother so
grave and silent? When I spoke she did not answer me. My uncles, too,
frighten me with their black looks. Tell me, Francis, what have I done?”

“Done, sweetest?--nothing,” answered Francis, unclosing his eyes, and
looking at her. “Our mother is busied with affairs of state, as are also
your uncles. There is much to disquiet them.” Francis draws her closer
to him, laying his head upon her shoulder wearily, and again closing his
eyes. “It is some conspiracy against her and your uncles--the
Guises--_mignonne_,” added he, whispering into her ear.

“Conspiracy! Holy Virgin, how dreadful! Why did you not tell me this
before we left Blois?”

“I feared to frighten you, dear love, ere we were safe within the thick
walls of this old fortress.”

Mary starts up and seizes his hand.

“Tell me, tell me,” she says, in an unsteady voice, “what is this
conspiracy?”

“A plot of the Huguenots, in which Condé and the Coligni are concerned,”
replies Francis, roused by her vehemence into attention. “Did you not
mark how suddenly our uncle, Francis of Guise, appeared at Blois, and
that he was closeted with her Majesty for hours?” Mary, her eyes
extended to their utmost limit and fixed on his, bows her head in
assent. “Did we not leave immediately after the interview for Amboise?
Did not that make you suspicious?”

“No, Francis; for you said that we came here to hold a joust and to hunt
in the forest of Chanteloup. How could I doubt your word? Oh! this is
horrible!”

“We came to Amboise, _ma mie_, because it is a stronghold, and Blois is
an open town.”

“Do you know no more? or will you still deceive me?” asks Mary eagerly,
looking at him with tearful eyes.

“My mother told me that the Duc de Guise was informed by the Catholics
of England (which tidings have been since confirmed), that the Huguenots
are arming in force, that they are headed by Condé, that they are
plotting to imprison the Queen-mother and your uncles, and to carry you
and me to Paris by force.”

“By force? Would they lay hands on us? Oh, Francis, are we safe in this
castle?” exclaims Mary, clasping her hands. “Will our guards defend us?
Are the walls manned? Is the town faithful? Are there plenty of troops
to guard the bridges?”

As she speaks, Mary trembles so violently that she has slid from her
chair and sinks upon the ground, clinging to Francis in an agony of
fear.

“Courage, my _reinette_! rise up, and sit beside me,” and Francis raises
her in his arms and replaces her on her chair. “Here we are safe. This
conspiracy is not directed against us, Mary. The people say my mother
and the Guises rule, not I, the anointed King. The Huguenots want to
carry us off to Paris for our good. _Pardieu!_ I know little of the plot
myself as yet; my mother refused to tell me. Anyhow, we are secure here
at Amboise from Turk, Jew, or Huguenot, so cheer up, my lovely queen!”

As Mary looks up again further to question him, he stops her mouth with
kisses.

“Let us leave all to the Queen-mother. She is wise, and governs for us
while we are young. She loves not to be questioned. Sweetest, I am
weary, give me a cup of wine; let me lie in your closet, and you shall
sing me to sleep with your lute.”

“But, Francis,” still urges Mary, gently disengaging herself from his
arms as he leads her away, “surely my uncles must be in great danger; a
conspiracy perhaps means an assassination. I beseech you let me go and
question them myself.”

“_Nenni_,” answers Francis, drawing her to him. “You shall come with me.
I will not part with you for a single instant. Ah! _mignonne_, if you
knew how my head aches, you would ask me no more questions, or I shall
faint.”

Mary’s expressive face changes as the April sunshine. Her eyes fill with
tears of tenderness as she leads Francis to a small closet in a turret
exclusively her own,--a _chinoiserie_, quaint and bright as the plumage
of a bird,--and seats him, supported by a pile of pillows, on a
couch--luxurious for that period of stiff-backed chairs and wooden
benches.

“Talk to me,” says Francis, smoothing her abundant hair, which hung in
dark masses on her shoulders as she knelt at his feet, “or, better
still, sing to me, I love to hear your soft voice; only, no more
politics--not a word of affairs of state, Mary. Sing to me those verses
you showed to Ronsard, about the knight who leapt into a deep stream to
pluck a flower for his love and was drowned by the spell of a jealous
mermaid who watched him from among the flags.”

Mary rises and fetches her lute. All expression of fear has left her
face. Reassured by Francis and occupied alone by him, she forgets not
only the Huguenots and the conspiracy, but the whole world, beside the
boy-husband, who bends lovingly over her as she tries the strings of her
instrument. So let us leave them as they sit, two happy children, side
by side, bathed in the brief sunshine of a changeful day in March, now
singing, now talking of country fêtes, especially of a _carrousel_ to
take place on the morrow in the courtyard of the castle, in which the
Grand Prieur is to ride disguised as a gipsy woman and carry a monkey on
his back for a child!



CHAPTER XIII.

A TRAITOR.


The Queen-mother sits alone; a look of care overshadows her face; her
prominent eyes are fixed and glassy. From her window she can gaze at an
old familiar scene, the terrace and parterre bordered by lime walks,
planted by Francis I., where she has romped in many a game of
_cache-cache_ with him.

Presently she rises and summons an attendant from the antechamber.

“Call hither to me Maître Avenelle,” says she to the dainty page who
waits her command.

Avenelle, a lawyer and a Huguenot, is the friend of Barri, Seigneur de
la Renaudie, the nominal leader of the Huguenot plot; of which the Duc
de Guise has been warned by the Catholics of England. Avenelle has, for
a heavy bribe, been gained over in Paris by the Duke’s secretary,
Marmagne; he has come to Amboise to betray his friends “of the religion”
by revealing to the Queen-mother all he knows of this vast Huguenot
conspiracy, secretly headed by the Prince de Condé and by Admiral
Coligni.

Avenelle enters and bows low before the Queen who is seated opposite to
him at a writing-table. He is sallow and wasted-looking, with a grave
face and an anxious eye; a tremor passes over him as he suddenly
encounters the dark eyes of Catherine fixed upon him.

“Have you seen the Duc de Guise?” says she haughtily, shading her face
with her hand the better to observe him, as he stands before her,
motionless, and pale with fear.

“Yes, madame,” replies he, again humbly bowing; “I come now from his
chamber, whither I was conducted by M. Marmagne, his secretary.”

“And you have confided to him all you know of this plot?”

“I have, madame, all.”

“Is it entirely composed of Huguenots?”

“It is, madame.”

“What are the numbers?”

“Perhaps two thousand, your Majesty.”

Catherine starts, the lines on her face deepen, and her eyes glitter
with astonishment and rage.

“Who is at the head of these rebels?” she asks suddenly, after pausing a
few moments.

Avenelle trembles violently; the savage tone of her voice and her
imperious manner show him his danger. His teeth chatter, and drops of
moisture trickle down his forehead. So great is his alarm that, in spite
of his efforts to reply, his voice fails him. Catherine, her eyes
riveted on his, waves her hand with an impatient gesture.

“Why do not you answer me, Maître Avenelle? If you are waiting to invent
a lie with which to deceive me, believe me, such deceit is useless. The
torture-chamber is at hand; the screw will make you speak.”

“Oh, madame,” gasps Avenelle, making a successful effort to recover his
voice, “I had no intention to deceive your Majesty; I am come to tell
you all I know. It was a passing weakness that overcame me.”

“Who, then, I again ask,” says the Queen, taking a pen in her hand in
order to note his reply, “who is at the head of this plot?”

“Madame, it is secretly headed by that heretic, the Prince de Condé.
Coligni knows of it, as does also his brother d’Andelot, and the
Cardinal de Châtillon. The nominal leader, Barri de la Renaudie, is but
a subordinate acting under their orders.”

“Heretics do you call them; are not you, then, yourself a Huguenot?”

“Madame, I was,” replies Avenelle, obsequiously, with an effort to look
fearless, for Catherine’s glittering eyes are still upon him; “but his
Highness, the Duc de Guise, has induced me to recant my errors.”

“Ah!” says Catherine, smiling sarcastically; “I did not know our cousin
of Guise troubled himself with the souls of his enemies. But this La
Renaudie, was he not your friend? Did he not lodge with you in Paris?”

“He did lodge, for a brief space, in my house in Paris, madame; but I
have no friend that is not a loyal subject to your Majesty.” Avenelle
now speaks more boldly.

Catherine eyes him from head to foot with a glance of infinite contempt.
“I am glad to hear this for your own sake, Maître Avenelle,” she replies
drily. “What is the precise purpose of this plot?”

“Madame, it is said by the Huguenots that your Majesty, not your son,
his Majesty Francis II., governs, and that under your rule no justice
will ever be done to those of ‘the religion’; that your Majesty seeks
counsel of the Duc de Guise and of his brother, the Cardinal de
Lorraine, who are even more bitterly opposed than yourself to their
interests. Therefore they have addressed themselves to the Prince de
Condé, who is believed to share their opinions both political and
religious, for present redress. The conspirators propose, madame, to
place his Highness the Prince de Condé on the throne as Regent, until
such measures are taken as will insure their independence; imprison your
Majesty; send the young King and Queen to some unfortified place--such
as Blois or Chenonceau--and banish the noble Duke and his brother the
Cardinal from France.”

While Avenelle, speaking rapidly, gives these details, Catherine sits
unmoved. As he proceeds her eyes never leave him, and her hands,
singularly small and delicate, are clenched upon her velvet robe. When
he has done speaking a look of absolute fury passes over her face. There
is a lengthened silence, during which her head sinks on her breast and
she remains lost in thought. When she looks up all passion has faded out
of her face. She appears as impassible as a statue, and speaks in a
clear metallic voice which betrays no vestige of emotion.

“Have these conspirators many adherents, Maître Avenelle?”

“I fear so, madame. Nearly two thousand are gathering together, from
various points, at Nantes. On the 15th of the present month of March
they would have attacked Blois. Had your Majesty not received timely
warning and retreated to this fortified castle, these rebellious
gentlemen would have captured your sacred person and that of our
Sovereign and the young Queen. They would have kept you imprisoned
until you had consented to abdicate the throne or to dismiss our great
Catholic Princes of Lorraine, to whom and to your Majesty all evil
influence is attributed.”

“Influence? Yes, influence enough to punish traitors, heretics, and
_spies_!” exclaims Catherine, and she darts a fierce look at Avenelle,
who, though still pale as death, is now more composed, and meets her
glance without flinching. He knows his life is in the balance, and he
thinks he reads the Queen-mother rightly, that he may best ensure it by
showing no cowardice.

“Is this all you know, Maître Avenelle?” says the Queen, coldly.

“Yes, madame; and I trust you will remember that I have been the means
of saving your Majesty and the young King from imprisonment, perhaps
from death.”

Catherine turns her terrible eyes full upon Avenelle. “Maître Avenelle,
I appreciate both your disinterestedness and your loyalty,” replies she,
with a bitter sneer. “You, sir, will be kept a prisoner in this castle
until his Majesty’s council have tested the truth of what you say. We
may _use_ such as you, but we mistrust them and we despise them. If you
have spoken the truth, your life shall be spared, but you will leave
France for ever. If you have lied, you will die.” As these words fall
from her lips and are echoed through the lofty chamber, she strikes on a
sharp metal placed before her. Two guards immediately enter and remove
Avenelle in custody.

Catherine again strikes on the metal instrument, summons her attendant,
and desires that Francis,

[Illustration: SPIRAL STAIRCASE, CHÂTEAU OF BLOIS.

(By permission of Neurdein, Paris.)]

Duc de Guise, and the Cardinal de Lorraine shall attend her.

In this interview between the heads of the Catholic party their plan of
action is decided. A council of state is to be at once called at
Amboise, to which the Huguenot chiefs, the Prince of Condé, the Admiral
Coligni, his brother d’Andelot, the Cardinal de Châtillon, and others
are to be invited to attend; and a conciliatory edict in favour of the
Calvinists, signed by the King, is to be proclaimed.

Thus the Reformed party will be thrown completely off their guard, and
La Renaudie and the conspirators, emboldened by the apparent security
and ignorance of the government, will gather about Amboise, the better
to carry out their designs of capturing the King, the Queen, and the
Queen-mother, and banishing or killing the Guises, her supposed evil
counsellors. But another and secret condition is appended to this edict
which would at once, if known, have awakened the suspicions and driven
back from any approach to Amboise both the conspirators and the great
chiefs of the Huguenot party.

This secret condition is that Francis, Duc de Guise, shall be forthwith
nominated Lieutenant-General of the kingdom, and be invested with almost
absolute power.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE COUNCIL OF STATE.


The council assembles in a sombre chamber panelled with dark oak,
crossed by open rafters--a chamber that had remained unaltered since the
days of Louis XI. A long table stands in the centre surrounded with
leather chairs heavily carved, on which are seated the members of the
council. Condé, who is of royal blood, takes the highest place on the
Calvinist side. He is somewhat below middle height and delicately
formed. His complexion is fair, his face comely; his dark eyes, sunk
deep in his head, bright with the power of intellect, are both cunning
and piercing. Nevertheless, it is a veiled face and betrays nothing. His
dress is dark and simple, yet studiously calculated to display to the
best advantage his supple and elegant figure. There is an air of
authority about him that betrays itself unwittingly in every glance he
casts around the room. He is a man born to command.

Next to him is a man older, sturdier, rougher; a powerfully built man,
who sits erect and firm in his chair. His head is covered with long
white hair; he has overhanging eyebrows, a massive forehead, and a
firmly-closed mouth. His weather-beaten face and sunken cheeks show that
he has lived a life of exposure and privation--a man thus to meet
unmoved peril or death. He wears a homely suit of black woollen stuff
much worn, and as he sits he leans forward, plunged in deep thought.
This is Admiral Coligni. Beside him is his brother D’Andelot, slighter
and much younger: he is dressed with the same simplicity as the Admiral,
but wants that look of iron resolve and fanatic zeal which at the first
glance stamps Coligny as a hero. Châtillon has placed himself beside his
brother prelate of Lorraine. Each wears the scarlet robe of a cardinal,
over which falls a deep edging of open guipure lace; their broad red
hats, tasselled with silken cords, lie on the table before them.
Lorraine is thin and dark, with a treacherous eye and a prevailing
expression of haughty unconcern. Châtillon is bland and mild, but withal
shrewd and astute; a smile rests upon his thin lips as his eyes travel
round the table, peering into every face, while from time to time he
whispers some observation to the Cardinal de Lorraine, the Minister of
State, who effects not to hear him.

A door opens within a carved recess or dais raised one step from the
floor, and Francis and Mary appear. The whole council rises and salutes
the young King and Queen. They seat themselves under a purple velvet
canopy embroidered in gold with fleurs-de-lys and the oriflamme. They
are followed by Catherine and Francis Duc de Guise, a man of majestic
presence and lofty stature. He is spare, like the Cardinal, but his
eager eye and sharply cut features, on which many a wrinkle has
gathered, proclaim the man of action and the warrior, ardent in the path
of glory, prompt, bold, and unscrupulous. At the sight of Coligni,
Condé, and Châtillon he knits his brows, and a sinister expression
passes over his face which deepens into a look of actual cruelty as he
silently takes his place next to Catherine de’ Medici.

The young King and Queen sit motionless side by side, like two children
who are permitted to witness a solemn ceremony upon the promise of
silence and tranquillity. They are both curious and attentive. Not all
Mary Stuart’s questions have elicited further information from her
uncles, and Francis, too feeble in health to be energetic, is satisfied
with the knowledge that the Queen-mother occupies herself with affairs
of state.

The Queen-mother, with a curious smile upon her face, stands for a few
moments on the estrade facing the council-chamber. She coldly receives
the chiefs of the Reformed faith, but her welcome is studiously polite.
With the same grave courtesy she greets the Guises, Nemours, and the
other Catholic princes. All are now seated in a circle of which Francis
and Mary, motionless under the canopy of state, form the centre.
Catherine rises from her chair and in a guarded address speaks of danger
to the Crown from the Huguenot party, darkly hinting at a treasonable
plot in which some near the throne are implicated, and she calls on
those lords favourable to the Reformed religion for advice and support
in this emergency.

As she speaks an evil light gathers in her eye, especially when she
declares that she has at this time summoned her son’s trusty counsellors
of the Calvinist faith in order to consider an edict of pacification,
calculated to conciliate _all_ his Majesty’s subjects, and to rally
_all_ his faithful servants round his throne.

Her composed and serious countenance, the grave deliberation of her
discourse, her frank yet stately avowal of peril to the State and
desire for counsel in an hour of danger, are all so admirably simulated
that those not aware of her perfidy are completely duped.

Francis, her son, listens with wonder to his mother’s words, believing,
as he does, that she is both indignant and alarmed at the machinations
of that very party she has called to Amboise and which she now proposes
to propitiate.

The Duc de Guise, who perfectly understands her drift, secretly smiles
at this fresh proof of the dissimulation and astuteness of his cousin
who caresses ere she grasps her prey. When she has ended he loudly
applauds her conciliatory resolutions, and by so doing astonishes still
more the unsuspicious Francis, as well as his niece Mary whose wondering
eyes are fixed on him.

As to Coligni and the other Protestants, they fall blindfolded into the
snare spread for them by Catherine, all save the Prince de Condé, who,
crafty and treacherous himself, is more suspicious of others. He has
marked, too, the Queen-mother’s words, “some near the throne,” and
thinks he knows to whom they are applied. However, he immediately rises
and in a few well-chosen phrases declares himself ready to defend the
royal cause with his life. The Admiral next speaks, and in an eloquent
harangue he unsuspectingly dilates on his own views of the present
administration, and reproves the ambition of those princes who usurp the
government of France. “There are two millions of Protestants in the
kingdom,” he says, “who look to the heads of their own faith for relief
from the tyranny and injustice under which they have long languished.
Two millions,” repeats Coligni in a grave, sad voice, looking
steadfastly round the circle, “who seek to live at peace, industrious,
tranquil, loyal. But these two millions demand that they shall enjoy
equal privileges with the least of his Majesty’s Catholic subjects. This
is now refused. They ask to be neither suspected, watched, nor wilfully
persecuted. If any conspiracy exists, such as is known to her Majesty
the Queen-mother--and I accept her statement as true with the deepest
sorrow--it can only arise from the bitter feeling engendered by the
disgrace of these Calvinistic subjects of this realm who are uniformly
treated as aliens, and repulsed with cruel persistency from such places
of trust and honour as their services have entitled them to enjoy. Let
these heavy grievances be removed, let his Majesty reign for himself
_alone_”--and Coligni’s eye rests on the Duc de Guise and the
Queen-mother--“with equal favour over both parties, Catholic as well as
Protestant. Let the conciliatory edict now before the council be made
public, and I, Gaspard de Coligni, bind myself upon my plighted word as
a noble and upon my conscience as a devout Calvinist, that the House of
Valois will for ever live in the hearts of our people, and receive from
them as entire a devotion as ever animated subject to his sovereign.”

A deep silence follows Coligni’s address, and the Duc de Guise and the
Cardinal de Lorraine exchange glances of indignation.

Francis has become more and more mystified. Timid and inexperienced, he
fears to betray his absolute ignorance of state affairs, and perhaps
incense his mother by indiscreet questions. But when the parchment,
heavy with seals of state, is produced and borne to him by the
Chancellor for signature, he can no longer conceal his astonishment that
he should be called on to sign an edict giving both liberty and
protection to those very persons whom the Queen-mother and his uncles
had represented to him as his mortal enemies. He looks so long and
earnestly at Catherine, that she, fearing that by one mistaken word he
is about to destroy the whole fabric of her masterly dissimulation,
rises quickly from the arm-chair in which she sits, and advancing
quickly towards him with a commanding look and imperious gesture, takes
the pen from the hand of the Chancellor and presents it to him herself.

“Sign, my son,” says she, “this edict which has been framed by the
unanimous advice of your council in favour of your loyal subjects. Fear
not to sanction this royal act of mercy. Your Majesty is still too young
to understand the far-seeing wisdom of the act. Take it on my word,
Sire, take it _now_ on my word. You will understand it better later.”

“Truly, madame,” replies the King, “I call God to witness that I desire
the good of all my subjects, Huguenot and Catholic.” So saying he takes
the pen and signs the edict. The council forthwith breaks up, and with
what wondering curiosity on the part of the King and Mary, who dare ask
no questions, cannot be told.



CHAPTER XV.

CATHERINE’S VENGEANCE.


Meanwhile the conspirators, emboldened by the news of the edict of
Amboise, carried out their purpose exactly as the Queen-mother intended,
with perfect confidence and little concealment. Catherine’s object was
to draw them towards Amboise and there destroy them. Band after band, in
small detachments the better to avoid suspicion, rode up from Nantes
where they lay, to concentrate in force on the Loire and within Amboise
itself. When sufficiently strong they proposed to carry off the King and
Queen by a _coup-de-main_, make away with the Jesuitical Guises, banish
the Queen-mother to some distant fortress, and place Condé on the throne
as Regent.

They came through the plains of Touraine, halting beside solitary farms,
in the vineyards, under the willows and tufted underwood that border the
rivers, and through the dark forests that lie on the hills behind
Amboise. Band after band reached certain points, halted at the spots
indicated to them, and met other detachments with whom they were to act;
but not one of them was heard of more.

The walls of the castle of Amboise bristled with troops, and the open
country towards Loches was full of soldiers. Trusty guards stationed on
the double bridge across the Loire were instructed by the Duc de Guise,
who wielded absolute power and who had now gained minute knowledge of
the plot, to take all

[Illustration: COUÇY.]

suspected persons prisoners, or if needful, slay them as they stood.
Crowds of prisoners poured into Amboise, tied together and driven like
cattle to the shambles. Those who were known were reserved for a further
purpose, the rest--the herd--were either hanged or drowned. The Loire
was full of floating corpses.

Condé, wary with the wariness of his race, ventured not again to
Amboise. Coligni and his brother knew not how to oppose a power
exercised in the royal name, but Jean Barri de la Renaudie, the
ostensible leader of the conspiracy and a bold adventurer, alarmed at
the mysterious disappearance of party after party of his followers, set
out in rash haste towards Amboise. He too was watched for and expected
among the wooded hills of the forest of Château Renaud.

La Renaudie had encamped in the woods towards morning after advancing
under cover of the night from Niort. Suddenly his detachment was
approached by two or three horsemen, who, after reconnoitring for a few
moments, retreated. These were evidently the advance guard of the royal
forces. La Renaudie immediately broke up his camp and dashed on towards
Amboise, concealed by the overhanging trees on the banks of a stream
which flowed through a wild defile. In a hollow of the river, among beds
of stone and sand, he was fallen upon by a regiment of royal troops who
had tracked and finally caught him as in a trap. His own cousin
Pardilliac commanded the attack, he recognised him by the flag. A deadly
struggle ensued, in which both cousins fell. La Renaudie’s corpse,
carried in triumph to Amboise, was hung in chains over the bridge.

Then Condé, Coligni, and the other Calvinists came fully to understand
what the edict of conciliation really meant.

The Castle of Amboise during all this time had been strictly guarded;
every door was watched, every gallery was full of troops; the garden and
the walled plateau, within which stands the beautiful little votive
chapel erected by Anne of Brittany, was like a camp. Silence, suspicion,
and terror were on every face. Although the Queen-mother, with her
crafty smiles and unruffled brow, affected entire ignorance and exhorted
“la petite reinette,” as she called Mary, to hunt in the adjoining
forest, and to assemble the Court in the state rooms with the usual
banquets and festivities, Mary, pale and anxious, remained shut up with
Francis in her private apartments.

“My uncle,” said Francis to the Duc de Guise whom he met leaving the
Queen-mother’s retiring-room, “I must know what all these precautions
mean. Why are so many troops encamped about the castle, the guards
doubled, and the gates closed? Why do you avoid me and the Queen? Uncle,
I insist on knowing more.”

“It is nothing, Sire--nothing,” faltered the Duke, who, dissembler as he
was, could scarcely conceal the confusion the King’s questions caused
him. “A trifling conspiracy has been discovered, a few rebels have been
caught, your Majesty’s leniency has been abused by some false Huguenots.
These troops assembled about the castle are your Majesty’s trusty guards
brought here to ensure the maintenance of the terms of the edict.”

“But, uncle, the Queen and I hear the clash of arms and firing on the
bridges as against an enemy. I cannot sleep, so great is the tumult.
What have I done that my people should mistrust me? Huguenots and
Catholics are alike my subjects. Are you sure, uncle, that it is not you
and my mother that they hate? I would that you would all go away for a
while and let me rule alone, then my people would know me.”

When all the Huguenot conspirators, about two thousand in number, were
either massacred or imprisoned, Catherine threw off the mask. She called
to her Francis and the young Queen. “My children,” said she, “a plot has
been discovered by which the Prince de Condé was to be made Regent. You
and the Queen were to be shut up for life, or murdered perhaps. Such as
remain unpunished of the enemies of the House of Valois are about to be
executed on the southern esplanade of the castle. You are too young to
be instructed in all these details, but, my son, when you signed that
edict, I told you I would afterwards explain it--now come and behold the
reason. Mary, my _reinette_, do not turn so pale, you will need to learn
to be both stern and brave to rule your rough subjects the Scotch.”

Catherine, erect and calm, led the way to the state apartments
overlooking on either side the garden, terrace, and river. Large
mullioned windows had by the command of Francis I. taken the place of
the narrow lights of the older fortress. He had changed the esplanade
and southern terraced front within the walls and the balconied windows
to the north overlooking the town, into that union of _manoir_ and
château which he first created.

The boy-King and Queen followed tremblingly the steps of their mother,
who strode on in front with triumphant alacrity. Without, on the
pleasant terrace bordered by walls now bristling with guns and alive
with guards and archers, on the pinnacles and fretted roof of the votive
chapel, which stands to the right in a tuft of trees inside a bastion,
the sun shone brightly, but the blue sky and the laughing face of nature
seemed but to mock the hideous spectacle in front. Close under the
windows of the central gallery, a scaffold was erected covered with
black, on which stood an executioner masked, clothed in a red robe. Long
lines of prisoners packed closely together, a dismal crowd, wan and
emaciated by imprisonment in the loathsome holes of the mediæval castle,
stood by hundreds ranged against the outer walls and those of the
chapel, guarded by archers and musketeers; as if such despairing
wretches, about to be butchered like cattle in the shambles, needed
guarding! The windows of the royal gallery were wide open, flags
streamed from the architraves, and a loggia, or covered balcony, had
been prepared, hung with crimson velvet, with seats for the royal
princes.

Within the gallery the whole Court stood ranged against the sculptured
walls. Catherine entered first. With an imperious gesture she signed to
Mary, who clung, white as death, to her husband, to take her place under
a royal canopy placed in the centre of the window. Francis she drew into
a chair beside herself, the Chancellor, the Duc de Guise, his brother
the Cardinal, and the Duc de Nemours seated themselves near. Their
appearance was the signal to begin the slaughter. Prisoner after
prisoner was dragged up beneath the loggia to the scaffold and hastily
despatched. Cries of agony were drowned

[Illustration: THE GARDENS OF THE TUILERIES, PARIS]

in the screeching of fifes and the loud braying of trumpets. The
mutilated bodies were flung on one side to be cast into the river, the
heads borne away to be placed upon the bridge. Blood ran in streams and
scented the fresh spring breezes. The executioner wearily rested from
his labour, and another masked figure, dressed like himself, in red from
head to foot, took his place.

Spellbound and speechless sat the young Queen. A look of horror was on
her face. She had clutched the hand of Francis as she sat down, and ere
a few minutes had passed, she had fainted.

Catherine, who, wholly unmoved, was contemplating the death of her
enemies the Huguenots, turned with a terrible frown towards her son,
handing him some strong essence with which to revive Mary. As her senses
returned, even the basilisk eyes of her dreaded mother-in-law could not
restrain her. One glance at the awful spectacle gave her courage; she
gave a wild scream, and rushing forward, flung herself passionately at
the feet of her uncle, Francis of Guise.

“Uncle, dear uncle, stay this fearful massacre. Speak to the Queen, or I
shall die. Oh! why was I brought here to behold such a sight?”

“My niece,” answered the Duke solemnly, raising her from the ground, and
tenderly kissing her on the cheek, “have courage; these are but a few
pestilent heretics who would have dethroned you and your husband, the
King, and set up a false religion. By their destruction we are doing
good service to God and to the blessed Virgin. Such vermin deserve no
pity. You ought to rejoice in their destruction.”

“Alas! my mother,” said Francis, also rising, “I too am overcome at this
horrible sight, I also would crave your highness’s permission to retire;
the blood of my subjects, even of my enemies, is horrible to see. Let us
go!”

“My son, I command you to stay!” broke in Catherine, furious with
passion, and imperiously raising her hand to stay him. “Duc de Guise,
support your niece, the Queen of France. Teach her the duty of a
sovereign.”

Again Francis, intimidated by his mother’s violence, reseated himself
along with the unhappy Mary, motionless beside him. Again the steel of
the axe flashed in the sunshine, and horrible contortions writhed the
bodies of the slain. It was too much. Mary, young, tender,
compassionate--afraid to plead for mercy as though committing a crime,
again fainted, and was again recovered. The Queen-mother, to whom the
savage scene was a spectacle of rapture, again commanded her to be
reseated; but Francis, now fully aroused by the sufferings of his wife,
interposed.

“My mother, I can no longer permit your Majesty to force the Queen to be
present. You are perilling her health. Govern my kingdom and slay my
subjects, but let me judge what is seemly for my wife.”

So, bearing her in his arms, with the assistance of her ladies, Francis
withdrew.

When the butchery was over, and the headless bodies were floating in the
river or strung up on the branches of the trees or piled in heaps about
the castle, Catherine retired. She commanded that the remains of the
chief conspirators should be hung in chains from the iron balustrades of
the stone balcony which protects the windows of the royal gallery and
which still remains intact, on the north front of the castle, towards
the river. The remainder were to be thrown into the Loire. This stone
balcony borders now, as then, the whole length of the state apartments
towards the river. A fall of some hundred feet down a sheer mass of grey
rock on which the castle stands makes the head dizzy. Over this
precipice the headless bodies dangled, swaying to and fro in the March
wind, a hideous and revolting sight. No one could pass through any of
the apartments of the castle without beholding it. But despised humanity
in the shape of the murdered Huguenots asserted its claim on the
attention of the Court, and the stench of these bodies hung to the
balcony, and of those strung up on the trees, and the rotting corpses
that dammed up the river, soon became so overwhelming, that even
Catherine herself was forced to retreat, and accompany her son and the
young Queen to Chenonceau. The shock and excitement were, however, too
much for the sickly Francis. Rapidly he pined and died; no physician was
found who could cure a nameless malady.

Mary Stuart, a widow at eighteen, passionate and romantic, clung fondly
to that “pleasant land” where she had spent such happy days with the
gracious Francis. She had been created Duchesse de Touraine at her
marriage, and craved earnestly to be allowed to enjoy that apanage
rather than be banished to reign in a barren land, which she dreaded
like a living tomb. But her ambitious uncles, the Duc de Guise and the
Cardinal de Lorraine, who were to her as parents, obstinately insisted
on her departure for Scotland. So she sailed from Calais; and, from the
deck of the ship that bore her across the seas, as the shores of
France--which she was never more to see--gradually faded from her view,
she sang to her lute that plaintive song, so identified with her
memory:--

    “Adieu, oh plaisant pays!
     Adieu! oh ma patrie,
       La plus chérie, qui a nourri
     Ma Belle enfance,--Adieu!”



CHAPTER XVI.

THE ASTROLOGER’S CHAMBER.


Wherever Catherine chose to reside, either in Paris or in Touraine, an
observatory for the stars was always at hand, and Cosmo Ruggiero, who
had attended her from Italy, never left her. Cosmo was the Queen’s
familiar demon; he was both astrologer, alchemist, and philosopher. He
fed the glowing furnaces with gold and silver, sometimes with dead men’s
bones; concocted essences, powders, and perfumes; drew horoscopes, and
modelled wax figures in the likeness of those who had incurred the
Queen’s enmity. These were supposed to suffer pangs from each stab
inflicted on their images, and to waste away as their wax similitudes
melted in the flames. Cosmo was also purveyor of poisons to her
Majesty, and dealt largely in herbs and roots fatal to life. His
apartments and the observatory were always near those of the Queen and
connected with them by a secret stair.

We are at the Tuileries.[10] It stands on a plot of ground outside
Paris--where tiles were baked and rubbish shot--given by Francis I. to
his mother, Louise de Savoie. Charles IX., who has succeeded his
brother--Francis II.--inhabits the Louvre, now entirely rebuilt by
Francis I. The Queen-mother desired to live alone. She therefore
commanded Philippe de Lorme to erect a new palace for her use,
consisting of a central pavilion, with ample wings. Catherine is now
middle-aged; her complexion is darker, the expression of her face
sterner and more impassive. She seldom relaxes into a smile except to
deceive an enemy. In her own person she dislikes and despises the luxury
of dress, and principally wears black since the death of her husband.
But on fitting occasions of state she, too, robes herself in royal
apparel. She stands before us in a long black dress, tightly fitting her
shape. She has grown much stouter though she is still upright and
majestic. Her active habits and her extraordinary capacity for mental
labour are the same. A stiff ruff is round her neck and a black coif
upon her head. Jewels she rarely uses. Her suite of rooms at the
Tuileries, hung with sombre tapestry or panelled with dark wood, are
studiously plain. She loves artists and the arts, but pictures and
statues are not appropriate to the state business she habitually
transacts. There is a certain consistent grandeur in her plain,
unadorned _entourage_; a sense of subdued power--hidden yet
apparent--that makes those who approach her tremble. Her second son
Charles, now King of France, is wholly under her influence. He was only
ten years old when he ascended the throne at the death of his brother
Francis, and his mother has carefully stamped out every good quality in
his naturally frank and manly nature. Now he is rough and cruel, loves
the sight of blood, and has become a perfect Nimrod. He blows the horn
with such violence, so often and so loud, that he has injured his lungs.
Charles knows much more about the bears, wolves, deer, and wild boars of
France, than of his Christian subjects.

The Princess Marguerite is now grown into a woman, “a noble mind in a
most lovely person,” says the flattering Brantôme. Her mother encourages
Marguerite’s taste for intrigue, and throws her into the company of
women, such as Madame de Sauve, the court Ninon de l’Enclos of that day.
Catherine contemplates her beauty, not with the profound affection of a
mother, but as a useful bait to entrap those whom she desires to gain.
When she was young herself the Queen never allowed any tender passion to
stand in her way, but ruthlessly sacrificed all who were either useless
or troublesome.

When the palace is quiet, and the sighing of the winter wind without, as
it sweeps along the quays and ruffles the surface of the river, is only
broken by the challenge of the sentinels on the bastion bordering the
Seine, Catherine rises from her chair. She passes over her black dress a
long white mantle, puts her feet into silken slippers, lights a scented
bougie, takes from her girdle a golden key--which is hid there along
with a poisoned dagger in case of need--draws aside the tapestry,
unlocks a hidden door, and mounts a secret stair. Cosmo Ruggiero is
seated on a folding stool in a small laboratory under the roof. He is
reading an ancient manuscript. A lamp illuminates the page, and he is,
or affects to be, so profoundly absorbed that he does not hear his
terrible mistress enter. She glides like a ghost beside him and laying
her hand on his shoulder rouses him. Ruggiero rises hastily and salutes
her. Catherine draws a stool beside him, seats herself, and signs him to
do so also.

“Well, Cosmo! always studying; always at work in my service,” says she,
in a low metallic voice.

“Yes, madame, I have no other pleasure than in your Majesty’s service.”

“Yes, yes! you serve the Queen for love, and science out of interest--I
understand. Disinterestedness is the custom of our country, my friend.”

“Your Majesty mistakes; I serve her as a loyal servant and countryman
should.”

“La! la!” says Catherine, “we know each other, Cosmo,--no professions.
Is the poison ready I ordered of you, the subtle powder to sprinkle on
gloves or flowers? It is possible I may want it shortly.”

Ruggiero rises and hands a small sealed packet, enclosed in satin, to
the Queen, who places it in her bosom.

“Madame,” he says, “beware! this poison is most powerful.”

“So much the worse for those for whom it is destined,” replied
Catherine; and a cruel smile lights up her face for a moment. “It will
serve me the quicker. But to business, Cosmo. What say the stars? Have
you drawn the horoscopes?”

“Here, madame, are the horoscopes”; and he draws from his belt a bundle
of papers. “Here are the celestial signs within the House of Life of all
the royal persons concerned, traced by the magic pencil from the dates
you furnished me.”

Catherine glances at the papers. “Explain to me their import,” says she,
looking at him with grave attention.

“Your present design, madame, to marry Madame Marguerite to the King of
Navarre appears favourable to the interests of France. A cloud now rests
upon the usually brilliant star of the King of Navarre, but another
night, madame, perhaps----”

“This is all very vague, Ruggiero, I want an absolute prediction,” says
Catherine, fixing her black eyes full upon the soothsayer. “Among all
these illustrious personages is there not one whose horoscope is clear
and defined?”

“Assuredly, madame; will your Majesty deign to interrogate me as to the
future? I will unfold the purposes of the stars as I have read them.”

“You have spoken of the Princess. Does she love the young Duc Henri de
Guise?”

“Madame, her highness affects the Duke; but she is unstable in her
affections.”

“The Queen of Navarre--will she still forward this marriage?”

“It will cause her death.”

“How?”

“By poison.”

“Where?”

“At Paris.”

“That is well,” answers the Queen, and deep thought darkens her swarthy
face. “Her son, the King of Navarre--what of him?”

“He, madame, is safe for awhile, though he will shortly be exposed to
extreme peril.”

“But is he destined to die violently?”

“Perhaps; but long years hence. His hair will be gray before the poniard
I see hovering over him strikes. But, as I have said to-night, there is
a cloud upon his star. Long he will certainly escape steel, fire,
illness, or accident; he will bear a charmed life. Madame, the King of
Navarre will be a proper husband for Madame Marguerite.”

“But how of that bold man, the Duc de Guise, who dares without my leave
to aspire to the hand of the Princess?” asked Catherine.

“Henri de Guise, madame, will die a violent death, as will his father
and Coligni. The Admiral will be stabbed in his own house. This is
certain.”

The Queen smiles, and for a time is silent.

“Tell me,” at length she almost whispers, “have you discovered anything
more about myself and my sons?”

“Madame, I tremble to reply,” replies Ruggiero, hesitating.

“Speak, I command you, Cosmo.”

Catherine rises, and lays her hand heavily upon his arm. Her eyes meet
his.

“If I must reveal the future of your Majesty and the royal princes,
well, let it be done. Your Majesty can but kill me. I fear not death.”

“Fool, your life is safe!”

“You, madame, will live; but the Princes, your sons----” and he stops
and again hesitates.

“Speak!” hisses Catherine between her set teeth. “Speak, or, _pardieu_!
I will force you,” and she raises her hand aloft, as if to strike him.

“Madame,” replies Ruggiero, quite unmoved by her violence, rising from
his stool, and moving towards the wall, “you yourself shall see the
future that awaits them.” He withdraws a black curtain covering an
arched recess and revealed a magic mirror. “The kings your sons, madame,
shall pass before you. Each shall reign as many years as he makes the
circuit of that dark chamber you see reflected on the polished steel.
There is your eldest son, Francis. See how feebly he moves, how pale he
looks. He never lived to be a man. Twice he slowly passes round, and he
is gone. The next is Charles, ninth of that name. Thirteen times he
turns around, and as he moves a mist of blood gathers about him. Look,
it thickens--it hides him. He shall reign thirteen years, and die a
bloody death, having caused much blood to flow. Here is Henri, Duc
d’Anjou, who shall succeed him. A few circuits, and then behold--a
muffled figure--a monk, springs on him from behind. He falls and
vanishes.”

There is a pause.

“What! Cosmo,” whispers Catherine, who stood supporting herself on the
back of a high chair opposite the magic mirror. “Francis, Charles, Henry
are gone, but do they leave no child?”

“None, madame.”

“Where, then, is D’Alençon, my youngest boy? Let me see him.”

“Madame,” falters Ruggiero, “his highness is not destined to reign. The
successor of your sons is before you”; and on the magic glass rises up,
clear and distinct, the image of the King of Navarre. With strong, firm
steps he circles the mystic chamber of life twenty times. As he passes
on the twenty-first round, a mist gathers round him; he falls and
vanishes.

At the sight of Henry of Navarre, the Queen’s composure utterly forsakes
her. She trembles from head to foot and sinks into a chair. A sombre
fire shoots from her eyes.

“I will take care _that_ shall never be!” gasps she, unable to speak
with rage.

After a few moments she rose, took up her light, and without one other
word descended as she had come.



CHAPTER XVII.

AT CHENONCEAU.


The Château of Chenonceau, so greatly coveted by Catherine de’ Medici in
her youth, still remains to us. It lies in a rural district of the
Touraine, far from cities and the traffic of great thoroughfares.
Spared, from its isolated position, by the First Revolution, this
monument of the Renaissance, half palace half château, is as beautiful
as ever--a picturesque mass of pointed turrets, glistening spires,
perpendicular roofs, lofty pavilions, and pillared arches. It is partly
built over the river Cher, at once its defence and its attraction.

Henry II., as also his father, Francis, who specially loved this sunny
_plaisance_ and often visited it in company with his daughter-in-law,
Catherine, and his mistress, the Duchesse d’Étampes, had both lavished
unknown sums on its embellishment.

Chenonceau is approached by a drawbridge over a moat fed by the river.
On the southern side a stately bridge of five arches has been added by
Diane de Poitiers in order to reach the opposite bank, where the high
roofs and pointed turrets of the main building are seen to great
advantage, rising out of scattered woods of oak and ash, which are
divided into leafy avenues leading into fair water-meadows beside the
Cher. By Catherine’s command this bridge has been recently covered and
now forms a spacious wing of two stories, the first floor fitted as a
banqueting hall, the walls broken by four embayed windows, opening on
either side and looking up and down the stream.

A fresh-breathing air comes from the river and the forest, a scent of
moss and flowers extremely delicious. The cooing of the cushat doves,
the cry of the cuckoo, the flutter of the breeze among the trees, and
the hum of insects dancing in the sunbeams are the voices of this sylvan
solitude. The blue sky blends into the green woods, and the white
clouds, sailing over the tree-tops, make the shadows come and go among
the arches of the bridge and the turrets of the château.

[Illustration: A Gate of the Louvre, after St. Bartholomew’s Day]

A sudden flourish of trumpets breaks the silence. It is Catherine, in
the early summer, coming, like Jezebel, to possess herself of her fair
domain. She is habited in black and wears a velvet toque with an ostrich
plume. A perfect horsewoman, she rides with a stately grace down the
broad avenue leading from the high road, followed by her maids of
honour--a bevy of some forty beauties, the _escadron volant de la
reine_, who serve her political intrigues by fascinating alike Huguenots
and Catholics.

To the right of the Queen-mother rides Madame Marguerite, her
daughter--by-and-by to become infamous as Queen of Navarre, wife of
Henry IV.--now a laughter-loving girl, who makes her brown jennet
prance, out of pure high spirits. She is tall, like all the Valois, and
finely formed. Her skin is very fair and her eyes full of expression;
but there is a hard look on her delicately-featured face that belies her
attractive appearance.

On the other side of the Queen-mother is her son, the young King,
Charles IX. He has a weak though most engaging countenance. Naturally
brave and witty and extremely frank and free, the artifices of his
mother’s corrupt Court have made him what he now is--cruel, violent, and
suspicious. Catherine has convinced him that he is deceived by all the
world except herself, and leads him at her will. He is to marry shortly
the daughter of the Emperor Maximilian. Beside him is the vicious and
elegant Duc d’Anjou, his next brother, of whom Charles is extremely
jealous. Already Henry has been victor at Jarnac, and almost rivals
Henry of Navarre in the number of battles he fights. He is to be elected
King of Poland during his brother’s life. Henry is handsomer than
Charles, but baby-faced and effeminate. He wears rouge, and is as gay as
a woman in his attire. Catherine’s youngest son, D’Alençon, long-nosed,
ill-favoured, and sullen, rides beside his sister.

Behind the royal Princess, is Francis, Duc de Guise, a man, as we have
seen, of indomitable will and unflinching purpose; fanatical in his
devotion to the Catholic Church, and of unbounded ambition. He secretly
cherishes the settled purpose of his house,--destruction to the race of
Valois. Ere long he will be assassinated at Orléans, by Poltrot, a
Huguenot, a creature of Coligni, who firmly believes he will ensure his
salvation by this crime. Such is Christianity in the sixteenth century!
There are also two cardinals mounted on mules. Lorraine, a true Guise,
most haughty and unscrupulous of politicians and of churchmen; and
D’Este, newly arrived from Ferrara, insinuating, treacherous, and
artistic. He has brought in his train from Italy the great poet Tasso,
who follows his patron, and wears a garbadine and cap of dark satin.
Tasso looks sad and careworn, spite of the high favour shown him by his
countrywoman, the Queen-mother. Ronsard, the court poet, is beside
Tasso, and Châtelard, who, madly enamoured of the widowed Queen, Mary
Stuart, is about to follow her to Scotland, and to die of his
presumptuous love ere long at Holyrood.

As this brilliant procession passes down the broad avenue through
pleasant lawns forming part of the park, at a fast trot, a rider is seen
mounted on a powerful black horse, who neither entirely conceals
himself nor attempts to join the Court. As he passes in and out among
the underwood skirting the adjoining forest, many eyes are bent upon
him. The Queen-mother specially, turns in her saddle the better to
observe him, and then questions her sons as to whether they recognise
this solitary cavalier, whose face and figure are completely hidden by a
broad Spanish hat and heavy riding-cloak.

At the moment when the Queen-mother has turned her head to make these
inquiries and is speaking earnestly to Francis of Guise, whom she has
summoned to her side, the unknown rider crosses the path of the Princess
Marguerite (who in frolicsome mood is making her horse leap over some
ditches in the grass), and throws a rose before her. Marguerite looks up
with a gleam of delight, their eyes meet for an instant; she raises her
hand, kisses it, and waves it towards him. The stranger bows to the
saddle-bow, bounds into the thicket, and is seen no more. The royal
party cross the drawbridge through two lines of attendants, picquers,
retainers, pages, and running footmen, and dismount at the arched
entrance from which a long stone passage leads to the great gallery, the
staircase, and the various apartments.

Leaving the young King and the Princes, his brothers, to the care of the
chamberlains who conduct them to their various apartments, the
Queen-mother turns to the left, followed by the Princess, who is
somewhat alarmed lest her mother should have observed her recognition of
the disguised cavalier. They pass through the guard-room--a lofty
chamber, with raftered ceilings and walls hung with tapestry, on which
cuirasses, swords, lances, casques, shields, and banners are suspended,
fashioned into various devices.

Beyond is a saloon, and through a narrow door in a corner is a small
writing-closet within a turret. Catherine, who knows the château well,
has chosen this suite of rooms apart from the rest. She enters the
closet alone, closes the door, seats herself beside the casement, and
gazes at the broad river flowing beneath. Her eyes follow the current
onwards to where the stream, by a graceful bend, loses itself among
copses of willow and alder. She smiles a smile of triumph. All is now
her own. Then she summons her chamberlain, and commands a masque on the
river for the evening, to celebrate her arrival. None shall say that
she, a Medici, neglects the splendid pageantry of courts. Besides, the
hunting parties, banquets, and masques are too precious as political
opportunities to be disregarded.

Having dismissed her chamberlain, who with his white wand of office bows
low before her, she calls for writing materials, bidding the Princess
and a single lady-in-waiting, Charlotte de Presney, her favourite
attendant, remain without in the saloon.

This is a large apartment, used by Catherine as a sleeping-room, with a
high vaulted ceiling of dark oak, heavily carved, the walls panelled
with rare marbles, brought by the Queen’s command from Italy. Busts on
sculptured pedestals, ponderous chairs, carved cabinets and inlaid
tables, stand around. In one corner there is a bedstead of walnut-wood
with heavy hangings of purple velvet which are gathered into a diadem
with the embossed initials “C. M.,” and an antique silver

[Illustration: CHARLES IX.

FROM THE PAINTING BY CLOUET.]

toilet-table, with a mirror in Venetian glass set in a shroud of lace.
The polished floor has no carpet, and there is not a chair that can be
moved without an effort. A window, looking south towards the river and
the woods, is open. The summer breezes fill the room with fragrance.
Under a ponderous mantelpiece of coloured marbles Marguerite seats
herself on a narrow settee. Her large, sparkling eyes and animated face,
her comely shape, and easy though stately bearing, invite, yet repel,
approach. She still wears her riding-dress of emerald velvet laced with
gold, and a plumed cap lies beside her. Her luxuriant hair, escaped from
a golden net, covers her shoulders. She is a perfect picture of youth
and beauty, and as fresh as her namesake, the daisy.

Charlotte de Presney, at least ten years older than the Princess, is an
acknowledged belle. Her features are regular, her complexion brilliant,
and her face full of intelligence; but there is a cunning expression
about her dimpling mouth that greatly mars her beauty.

“Have you nothing for me, Charlotte?” whispers the Princess, stretching
out her little hand glistening with precious stones. “I know you have.
Give it me. His eyes told me so when he passed me in the avenue.”

“Your highness must not ask me. Suppose her Majesty opens that door and
sees me in the act of giving you a letter?”

“Oh! _méchante_, why do you plague me? I know you have something hidden;
give it me, or I will search you,” and she jumps up and casts her soft
arms round the lady-in-waiting.

Charlotte disengages herself gently, and with her eyes fixed on the low
door leading into the Queen’s closet sighs deeply, and takes a letter
from her bosom, bound with blue silk, and sealed with the arms of Guise.

“Ah! my colours! Is he not charming, my lover?” mutters Marguerite, as
her eager eyes devour the lines. “He says he has followed us, disguised,
from Tours; not even his father knows he has come, but believes him to
be in Paris, in case he should be questioned by the Queen-mother,--Charlotte,
do you think her Majesty recognised him in the avenue? He was admirably
disguised.”

“Your highness knows that nothing escapes the Queen’s eye. The sudden
appearance of a stranger in this lonely spot must have created
observation.”

“Ah! is he not adorable, Charlotte, to come like a real knight-errant to
gaze at his lady-love? How grand he looked--my noble Guise, my warrior,
my hero!” and Marguerite leans back pensively on the settee, as though
calling up his image before her.

“Her Majesty will be very angry, madame, if she recognised him. I saw
her questioning the Duke, his father, and pointing towards him as he
disappeared into the wood,” answered Charlotte, with the slightest
expression of bitterness in her well-modulated voice.

“Henry has discovered,” continues Marguerite, still so lost in reverie
that she does not heed her remark, “that the Queen has a masque to-night
on the river. He will be disguised, he tells me, as a Venetian nobleman,
in a yellow brocaded robe, with a violet mantle, and a red mask. He will
wear my colours--blue, heavenly blue, the symbol of hope and faith--on
his shoulder-knot. Our watchword is to be ‘Eternal love.’ ”

“Holy Virgin!” exclaims Charlotte, with alarm, laying her hand on
Marguerite’s shoulder, “your highness will not dare to meet him?”

“Be silent, _petite sotte_,” breaks in the Princess. “We are to meet on
the southern bank of the river. Charlotte, you must help me; I shall be
sure to be watched, but I must escape from the Queen by some device.
Change my dress, and then--and then----” and she turns her laughing eyes
on the alarmed face of Charlotte, “under the shady woods, by the
parterre near the grotto, I shall meet him--and, alone.”

“And what on earth am I to say to the Queen if she asks for your
highness?” replies Charlotte, turning away her face that the Princess
might not see the tears that bedew her cheeks.

“Anything, my good Charlotte; you have a ready wit, or my mother would
not favour you. I trust to your invention, it has been often exercised,”
and she looked archly at her. “Tell the Queen that I am fatigued, and
have retired into the château until the banquet, when I will rejoin her
Majesty. There is no fear, _ma mie_, especially as the Comte de Clermont
is at Chenonceau. Her Majesty, stern and silent though she be, unbends
to him and greatly affects his company,” and she laughs softly and
points towards the closed door.

“I trust there is, indeed, no fear of discovery, Princess,” returns
Charlotte; “for her Majesty would never forgive me.” At which Marguerite
laughs again.

“Princess,” says Charlotte, looking very grave, and seating herself on
a stool at her feet, “tell me, truly, do you love the Duc de Guise?”
Charlotte’s fine eyes are fixed intently on Marguerite as she asks this
question.

“_Peste!_ you know I do. He is as great a hero as Rinaldo in the Italian
poet’s romance of _Orlando_. Somewhat sedate, perhaps, for me, but so
handsome, spite of that scar. I even love that scar, Charlotte.”

“Does the Duke love you?” again asks Charlotte, with a trembling voice.

“_Par exemple!_ do you think the man lives who would not return my
love?” and the young Princess colours, and tosses the masses of waving
brown curls back from her brow, staring at her companion in unfeigned
astonishment.

“I was thinking,” continues Charlotte, avoiding her gaze, and speaking
in a peculiar voice, “I was thinking of that poor La Molle, left alone
in Paris. How jealous he was! You loved him well, madame, a week ago.”

“Bah! that is ancient history--we are at Chenonceau now. When I return
to Paris it is possible I may console him. Poor La Molle! one cannot be
always constant. Charlotte,” said the Princess, after a pause, looking
inquisitively at her, “I believe you are in love with the Balafré
yourself.”

Charlotte colours, and, not daring to trust her voice in reply, shakes
her head and bends her eyes on the ground.

Marguerite, too much occupied with her own thoughts to take much heed of
her friend’s emotion, pats her fondly on the cheek, and proceeds--

“You are dull, _ma mie_; amuse yourself like me, now with one, then with
another. Be constant to none. Regard your own interest and inclination
only. But leave Guise alone; he is my passion. His proud reserve pleases
me. His stately devotion touches me. He is a king among men. I love to
torment the hero of Jarnac and Moncontour. He is jealous, too--jealous
of the very air I breathe; but in time, that may become wearisome. I
never thought of that,” adds she, musing.

“Your highness will marry soon,” says Charlotte, rising and facing the
Princess, “and then Guise must console himself----”

“With you, _par exemple, belle des belles_? You need not blush so,
Charlotte, I read your secret. But, _ma mie_, I mean to marry Henri de
Guise myself, even if my mother and the King, my brother, refuse their
consent. They may beat me--imprison me--or banish me; I will still marry
Henri de Guise.”

“Her Majesty will never consent to this alliance, madame.”

“You are jealous, Charlotte, or you would not say so. Why should I not
marry him, when my sister-in-law, the young Queen of Scots, is of the
House of Lorraine?”

“Yes, madame, but the case is altogether different; she is a
Queen-regnant. The house of Lorraine is already too powerful.”

“Ah!” exclaims the volatile Marguerite, starting up, “I love freedom;
freedom in life, freedom in love. Charlotte, you say truly, I shall
never be constant.”

“Then, alas, for your husband! He _must_ love you, and you will break
his heart.”

“Husband! I will have no husband but Henri de Guise. Guise or a convent.
I should make an enchanting nun!” And she laughs a low merry laugh,
springs to her feet, and turns a _pirouette_ on the floor. “I think the
dress would suit me. I would write Latin elegies on all my old lovers.”

“You will hear somewhat of that, madame, later from the Queen,”
Charlotte replies, with a triumphant air. “A husband is chosen for you
already.”

“Who? Who is he?”

“You will learn from her Majesty very shortly.”

“Charlotte, if you do not tell me this instant, I will never forgive
you;” and Marguerite suddenly becomes grave and reseats herself. “Next
time you want my help I won’t move a finger.”

“I dare not tell you, madame.”

“Then I will tell Guise to-night you are in love with him,” cries she,
reddening with anger.

“Oh, Princess,” exclaims Charlotte, sinking at her feet, and seizing her
hand; “you would not be so cruel!”

“But I will, unless you tell me.”

At this moment, when Marguerite was dragging her friend beside her on
the sofa, determined to obtain an avowal from her almost by force, the
low door opens, and Catherine stands before them.



CHAPTER XVIII.

A DUTIFUL DAUGHTER.


The two girls were startled and visibly trembled; but, recovering from
their fright, rose and made their obeisance. For a moment Catherine
gazed earnestly at them, as if divining the reason of their
discomposure; then beckoning to the Princess, she led her daughter into
her writing-room, where she seated herself beside a table covered with
despatches and papers.

“My daughter,” said the Queen, contemplating Marguerite with
satisfaction, as the Princess stood before her, her cheeks flushed by
the fright that Catherine’s sudden entrance had occasioned. “I have
commanded a masque to-night on the river, and a banquet in the
water-gallery, to celebrate my return. You will attend me and be careful
not to leave me, my child. Strangers have been seen among the woods. Did
you not mark one as we approached riding near us?” And Catherine gave a
searching glance at Marguerite. “I have given strict orders that all
strangers (Huguenots, probably, with evil designs upon his Majesty)
shall be arrested and imprisoned.”

Again Catherine turned her piercing eyes upon Marguerite, who suddenly
grew very pale.

“My daughter, you seem indisposed, the heat has overcome you--be
seated.”

Marguerite sank into a chair near the door. She knew that her mother had
recognised the Duke, and that it would be infinitely difficult to keep
her appointment with him that evening. Neither mother nor daughter spoke
for some moments. Catherine was studying the effect of her words on
Marguerite, and Marguerite was endeavouring to master her agitation.
When the Queen next addressed her, the Princess was still pale but
perfectly composed.

“My daughter, you passed much of your time before you left the Louvre
with the Comte la Molle. I know he is highly favoured by my son Anjou.
Does his company amuse you?”

Marguerite’s cheeks became scarlet.

“Your Majesty has ever commanded me,” replied she in a firm voice, “to
converse with those young nobles whom you and my brother the King have
called to the Court.”

“True, my child, you have done so, I acknowledge freely, and, by such
gracious bearing you have, doubtless, forwarded his Majesty’s
interests.” There was again silence. “Our cousin, the young Duc Henri de
Guise, is also much in your company,” Catherine said at length, speaking
very slowly and turning her eyes full upon Marguerite who, for an
instant, returned her gaze boldly. “I warn you, Marguerite, that neither
the King my son, nor I, will tolerate more alliances with the ambitious
House of Lorraine. They stand too near the throne already.”

Marguerite during this speech did not look up, not daring to meet the
steadfast glance of the Queen.

“Surely,” said she, speaking low, “your Majesty has been prejudiced
against the Duke by my brother Charles. His Majesty hates him. He is
jealous of him.”

“My child, speak with more respect of his Majesty.”

“Madame, the King has threatened to beat me if I dared to love the Duc
de Guise. But I am your Majesty’s own child,” and Marguerite turned
towards Catherine caressingly. “I fear not threats.” Catherine smiled
and curiously observed her. “But your Majesty surely forgets,” continued
Marguerite, warmly, “that our cousin of Guise is the chief pillar of the
throne, a hero who, at sixteen, vanquished Coligni at Poitiers; and that
at Massignac and Jarnac, in company with my brother Anjou, he performed
prodigies of valour.”

“My daughter, I forget nothing. You appear to have devoted much time to
the study of the Duke--our cousin’s life. It is a brilliant page in our
history. I have, however, other projects for you. You must support the
throne by a royal marriage.”

“Oh, madame!” exclaimed Marguerite, heaving a deep sigh, and clasping
her hands as she looked imploringly at her mother, who proceeded to
address her as though unconscious of this appeal.

“Avoid Henri de Guise, Princess. I have already remonstrated with his
father on his uninvited presence here, of which he professes entire
ignorance--for he _is here_, and you know it, Marguerite”--and she shot
an angry glance at the embarrassed Princess. “Avoid the Duke, I say, and
let me see you attended less often by La Molle, or I must remove him
from Court.”

“Madame!” cried Marguerite, turning white, and looking greatly alarmed,
well knowing what this _removal_ meant; “I will obey your commands. But
whom, may I ask, do you propose for my husband? Unless I can choose a
husband for myself”--and she hesitated, for the Queen bent her eyes
sternly upon her and frowned--“I do not care to marry at all,” she added
in a low voice.

“Possibly you may not, my daughter. But his Majesty and the council have
decided otherwise. Your hand must ultimately seal a treaty important to
the King your brother, in order to reconcile conflicting creeds and to
conciliate a powerful party.”

All this time Marguerite had stood speechless before the Queen. At this
last sentence, fatal to her hopes of marrying the Duc de Guise, the
leader of the Catholic party, her lips parted as if to speak, but she
restrained herself and was silent.

“The daughters of France,” said Catherine, lifting her eyes to the
ceiling, “do not consider personal feelings in marriage, but the good of
the kingdom. My child, you are to marry very shortly the King of
Navarre. I propose journeying myself to the Castle of Nérac to conclude
a treaty with my sister, Queen Jeanne, his mother. Henri de Béarn will
demand your hand. He will be accepted when an alliance is concluded
between the Queen of Navarre and myself.”

“But, my mother,” answered Marguerite, stepping forward in her
excitement, “he is a heretic. I am very Catholic. Surely your Majesty
will not force me----”

“You will convert him,” replied Catherine.

“But, madame, the Prince is not to my taste. He is rough and unpolished.
He is a mountaineer--a Béarnois.”

“My daughter, he will be your husband. Now, Marguerite, listen to me.
This marriage is indispensable for reasons of state. The King, your
brother, and I myself like the King of Navarre as little as you do. That
little kingdom in the valleys of the Pyrenees is a thorn in our side
which we must pluck out. Those pestilent and accursed heretics must be
destroyed. We call them to our Court; we lodge them in the Louvre--not
for love, Marguerite--not for love. Have patience, my daughter. I cannot
unfold to you the secrets of the council; but it is possible that Henry
of Navarre may not live long. Life is in the hands of God,--and of the
King.” She added in a lower voice. “Console yourself. A day is coming
that will purge France of Huguenots; and if Henry do not accept the
mass----”

“Madame,” said Marguerite, archly (who had eagerly followed her mother’s
words), “I trust that the service of his Majesty will not require me to
_convert_ the King of Navarre?”

“No, Princess,” said Catherine, with a sinister smile. “My daughter,”
continued she, “your dutiful obedience pleases me. The King may, in the
event of your marriage, create new posts of honour about the King of
Navarre while he lives. Monsieur la Molle, a most accomplished
gentleman, shall be remembered. _Au revoir_, Princess. Send Charlotte de
Presney to me. Go to your apartments, and prepare for the masque on the
river I have commanded to-night in honour of our arrival.”

So Marguerite, full of thought, curtseying low before her mother, kissed
her hand, and retired to her apartments.

As the sun sets and the twilight deepens, torch after torch lights up
the river and the adjacent woods. Every window in the château is
illuminated, and the great beacon-fires flash out from the turrets. The
sound of a lute, the refrain of a song, a snatch from a hunting-chorus,
are borne upon the breeze, as, one by one, painted barges shoot out from
under the arches of the bridge along the current.

As night advances the forest on both sides of the river is all ablaze.
On the southern bank, where the parterre is divided from the woods by
marble balustrades, statues, and hedges of clipped yew, festoons of
coloured lamps hang from tree to tree, and fade away into sylvan bowers
deep among the tangled coppice. The fountains, cunningly lit from below,
flash up in streams of liquid fire. Each tiny streamlet that crosses the
mossy lawns is a thread of gold. Tents of satin and velvet, fringed with
gold, border broad alleys and marble terraces of dazzling whiteness. The
river, bright as at midday with the light of thousands of torches, is
covered with gondolas and fantastic barques. Some are shaped like
birds--swans, parrots, and peacocks; others resemble shells, and
butterflies whose expanded wings of glittering stuff form the sails. All
are filled with maskers habited in every device of quaint disguisement.
Not a face or form is to be recognised. See how rapidly the fairy fleet
cleaves the water, now dashing into deep shadows, now lingering in the
torchlight that glances on the rich silks and grotesque features of the
maskers. Yonder a whole boat’s crew is entangled among the water lilies
that thickly fringe the banks under the over-arching willows. Some
disembark among the fountains, or mount the broad marble steps leading
to the arcades; some descend to saunter far away into the illuminated
woods. Others, tired of the woods, are re-embarking on the river. In the
centre of the stream is a barge with a raised platform covered with
velvet embroidered in gold, on which are placed the Queen’s musicians,
who wake the far-off echoes with joyous symphonies. Beyond, in the
woods, are maskers who dance under silken hangings spread among the
overhanging branches of giant oaks, or recline upon cushions piled upon
rich carpets beside tables covered with choice wines, fruit, and
confectionery. The merry laughter of these revellers mixes with strains
of voluptuous music from flutes and flageolets, played by concealed
musicians placed in pavilion orchestras hidden among the underwood,
tempting onwards those who desire to wander into the dark and lonely
recesses of the forest.

Among the crowd which thickly gathers on the parterre, a tall man of
imposing figure, habited in a Venetian dress of yellow satin and wrapped
in a cloak of the same colour, paces up and down. He is alone and
impatient. He wears a red mask; conspicuous on his right shoulder is a
knot of blue and silver ribbons. As each boat approaches to discharge
its gay freight upon the bank he eagerly advances and mixes with the
company. Then, as though disappointed, he returns into the shadow
thrown by the portico of a shell grotto. Wearied with waiting, he seats
himself upon the turf. “She will not come!” he says, and then sinks back
against a tree and covers his face with his hands. The fountains throw
up columns of fiery spray; the soft music sighs in the distance; crowds
of fluttering maskers pace up and down the plots of smooth grass or
linger on the terrace--still he sits and waits.

A soft hand touches him, and a sweet voice whispers, “Eternal love!” It
is the Princess, who, disguised in a black domino procured by Charlotte
de Presney, has escaped from the Queen-mother and stands before him.

For an instant she unmasks and turns her lustrous eyes upon him.

Henri de Guise (for it is he) leaps to his feet. He kneels before her
and kisses her hands. “Oh! my Princess, what condescension!” he murmurs,
in a low voice. “I trembled lest I had been too bold. I feared that my
letter had not reached you.”

A gay laugh answers his broken sentences.

“My cousin, will you promise to take on your soul all the lies I have
told my mother in order to meet you?”

“I will absolve you, madame.”

“Ah, my cousin, I have ill news! My mother and the King are determined
to marry me to the King of Navarre.”

“Impossible!” exclaims the Duke; “it would be sacrilege!”

“Oh, Henry!” replies the Princess, in a pleading voice, and laying her
hand upon his arm, “my cousin, bravest among the brave, swear by your
own sword that you will save me from this detestable heretic!”

The Duke did not answer, but gently drew her near the entrance of the
grotto. It was now late, and the lights within had grown dim.
“Marguerite,” he says, in a voice trembling with passion, “come where I
may adore you as my living goddess--come where I may conjure you to give
me a right to defend you. Say but one word, and to-morrow I will ask
your hand in marriage; the King dare not refuse me.”

“Alas! my cousin, my mother’s will is absolute.”

“It is a vile conspiracy!” cries the Duke, in great agitation. “The
House of Lorraine, my Princess, save but for the Crown, is as great as
your own. My uncle, the Cardinal, shall appeal to the Holy See.
Marguerite, do but love me, and I will never leave you! Marguerite, hear
me!” He seizes her hands--he presses her in his arms, drawing her each
moment deeper into the recesses of the grotto. As they disappear, a
voice is heard without, calling softly--

“Madame! Madame Marguerite! for the love of heaven, come, come!”

In an instant the spell is broken. Marguerite extricates herself from
the arms of the Duke and rushes forward.

It is Charlotte de Presney, disguised like herself in a black domino.
“Not a moment is to be lost,” she says, hurriedly. “Her Majesty has
three times asked for your highness. She supposes I am in the château
seeking you.” Charlotte’s voice is unsteady. She wore her mask to
conceal her face, for it was bathed in tears.

In an instant she and the Princess, followed by the Duke, cross the
terrace to where a boat is moored under the shade of some willows, and
are lost in the crowd.

The Duke dashes into the darkest recesses of the forest, and is seen no
more.



CHAPTER XIX.

BEFORE THE STORM.


Henry, King of Navarre, accompanied by the Prince de Condé and his wife,
and attended by eight hundred Huguenot gentlemen dressed in black (for
his mother, Queen Jeanne, had died suddenly at Paris, while he was on
the road), has just arrived at the Louvre to claim the hand of the
Princess Marguerite. The two Princes and the Princesse de Condé are
received with royal honours and much effusion of compliments by King
Charles and Catherine; they are lodged in the Palace of the Louvre.
Whatever Marguerite’s feelings are, she carefully conceals them.
Insinuating, adroit, clever, gifted with a facile pen and a flattering
tongue, she is too ambitious to resist, too volatile to be constant. She
lives in a world of intrigue, as she tells us in her memoirs, and
piquing herself on being “so Catholic, so devoted to the ‘sacred faith
of her fathers,’ ” and she pendulates between Henri de Guise and La
Molle, amid a thousand other flirtations. She lives in a family divided
against itself. Sometimes she

[Illustration: HENRI DE GUISE.

FROM A DRAWING IN THE LOUVRE.

(By permission of A. Giraudon, Paris.)]

takes part with the Duc d’Anjou and watches the Queen-mother in his
interests, in order to report every word she says to him; or she
quarrels with D’Anjou and swears eternal friendship with her youngest
brother, D’Alençon--all his life the puppet of endless political
conspiracies; or she abuses the King (Charles) because he listens to her
enemy, De Gaust, and tells her that she shall never marry the Duc de
Guise, because she would reveal all the secrets of state to him, and
make the House of Lorraine more dangerous than it is already. This
greatest princess of Europe, young and beautiful, a “noble mind in a
lovely person,” as Brantôme says of her, is agitated, unhappy, and
lonely. “Let it never be said,” writes she, “that marriages are made in
heaven; God is not so unjust. All yesterday my room echoed with talk of
weddings. How can I purge it?”

The Duc de Guise no longer whispers in her ear “Eternal love.” The great
Balafré, stern in resolve, firm in affection, is disgusted at her
_légèreté_. He has ceased even to be jealous. His mind is now occupied
by those religious intrigues which he developed later as leader of the
Holy Catholic League. Guise dislikes and distrusts the Valois race. He
especially abhors their unholy coquetting with heretics in the matter of
Marguerite’s approaching marriage. He has now adopted the motto of the
House of Lorraine, “Death to the Valois! Guise upon the throne!”
Moreover, he looks with favour on a widow--the Princesse de Porcian,
whom he marries soon after. Guise only remains at Court to fulfil the
vow of vengeance he has sworn against Coligni for his suspected
connivance in the murder of his illustrious father, Francis of Guise, of
which accusation Coligni could never clear himself.[11] The great
Admiral is now at Court. He is loaded with favours. Charles IX. has
requested his constant attendance at the council to arrange the details
of a war with Spain. He has also made him a present of a thousand
francs. The friends of Coligni warn him to beware. His comrade and
friend Montmorenci refuses to leave Chantilly. The Admiral, more honest
than astute, is completely duped. It is whispered among the Catholics
that revenge is at hand, and that the Protestant princes and Coligni are
shortly coming to their death. It is said also that the marriage
liveries of the Princess will be “crimson,” and that “more blood than
wine will flow at the marriage feast.”

And the Queen? Serene and gracious, she moves with her accustomed
majesty among these conflicting parties. She neither sees, nor hears,
nor knows aught that shall disarrange her projects. Silent, inscrutable,
her hands hold the threads of life. Within her brain is determined the
issue of events. Her son Charles is a puppet in her hands. This once
frank, witty, brave, artistic youth, who formerly loved verses and
literature,--when not a roaring Nimrod among the royal forests,--is
morose, cruel, and suspicious; convinced that the whole world is playing
him false, all perjured but his mother. She has told him, and she has
darkly hinted in the council, that events are approaching a crisis. She
has secured the present support of the young Duc de Guise and the
powerful House of Lorraine, ever foremost when Catholic interests are at
stake. She can now sit down calmly and marshal each act in the coming
drama, as a general can marshal those regiments which are to form his
battle-front. Fifteen hundred Protestants were slaughtered at Amboise
alone, but there are thousands upon thousands remaining, and she has
promised Philip II., her awful son-in-law, and his minister, the Duke of
Alva, that she will cut off the head of heresy within the realm of
France. She has tried both parties, intrigued with both--with Coligni
and the Condés, with Guise and the Cardinal de Lorraine--and she finds
that at present orthodoxy answers her purpose best.

Besides, there is personal hatred, fear, and offence towards the
Huguenots. Did not Coligni dare to criticise her government at the
Council of Amboise? Did not Condé (that cautious Bourbon) escape her?
The King of Navarre, too, her future son-in-law, is he to be lured to
Court and married to the fascinating Marguerite for _nothing_? Has not
Ruggiero shown her that his life crossed the life of her sons? Does she
not hate him? Is he not adored by the people, who, grown cold towards
the House of Valois, extol his vigour, courage, and ability? Yes, he
shall marry. Then he shall die along with all rebels, heretics, and
traitors! A general massacre of the Huguenots throughout France can
alone satisfy her longings and secure Charles on the throne.

Thus came to be planned that most tremendous crime, fixed for the
festival of St. Bartholomew, ostensibly for the triumph of the Catholic
Church, but in reality to compass the death of the Queen’s political
enemies--Navarre, Condé, and Coligni--and to crush the freedom of
thought and opinion brought in by liberty of conscience and a purer
faith.

This was the Court to which Henry of Navarre came, to be lodged under
the roof of the Louvre, and to marry the Princess Marguerite!

The marriage took place on the 18th of August, 1572, at Notre-Dame.[12]
The outspoken Charles had said that, in giving his sister _Margot_ to
the King of Navarre, he gave her to all the Huguenots in his kingdom.
The Princess tells us she wore a royal crown and a state mantle of blue
velvet, wrought with gold embroidery, four yards long. It was held up by
three princesses; and she further wore a corset, forming the body of her
dress, covered with brilliants, and the crown jewels. The streets
through which she passed were dressed with scaffoldings, lined with
cloth of gold, to accommodate the spectators, all the way from the
Archbishop’s palace to Notre-Dame.

A few nights after, Admiral Coligni was shot at, with an arquebuse, by a
man standing at a barred window in the street of the Fossés
Saint-Germain, as he returned from playing a game of rackets with the
King, at the Louvre, to his lodgings at the Hôtel de Saint-Pierre, in
the Rue Béthisy. He was walking along slowly, reading a paper; the
finger of his right hand was broken, and he was otherwise grievously
wounded. The assassin, Maurévert, was a fellow known to be in the pay of
Henri, Duc de Guise. The house from which the shot was fired

[Illustration: NOTRE DAME, PARIS]

belonged to the Duke’s tutor. The King of Navarre and Condé were
overcome at the news. Charles IX., along with the Queen-mother, visited
the Admiral next day, and stayed an hour with him. Before leaving,
Charles folded him in his arms and wept. “You, my father,” he said,
“have the wound, but I suffer the pain. By the light of God, I will so
avenge this act that it shall be a warning as long as the world lasts.”

A few hours after the shot was fired, the Huguenot chiefs assembled in
Navarre’s apartments to deliberate what means should be taken to punish
the assassin. About the same time a secret council was called by the
Queen-mother, to decide whether or no Navarre and Condé should be
massacred. Charles IX., the Duc de Guise--who, however hostile
otherwise, join issue to destroy Navarre and Condé--Anjou, Nevers, and
D’Angoulême were present. It was resolved that the King of Navarre and
the Prince de Condé should die, and that the massacre should take place
that very night, before the Huguenots--alarmed by the attempt on
Coligni--had time to concert measures of defence. Under pretence of
protecting them from further violence, all hotels and lodging-houses
were diligently searched, and a list made of the name, age, and
condition of every Protestant in Paris. Orders were also given for the
troops to be under arms, during the coming night, throughout the city.
Every outlet and portal of the Louvre were closed and guarded by Swiss
Guards, commanded by Cossein. The Hôtel de Saint-Pierre, in the Rue
Béthisy, where Coligni lay, was also surrounded by troops, “for his
safety,” it was said. No one could go in or out. At a given signal, the
tocsin was to sound from all places where a bell was hung. Chains were
to be drawn across the streets and bonfires lighted. White cockades,
stitched on a narrow white band to be bound round the right arm, were
distributed, in order that the Catholics might be recognised in the
darkness. The secret, known to hundreds, was well kept; the Huguenots
were utterly unprepared. “No one told me anything,” said Marguerite.[13]
“They knew that I was too humane. But the evening before, being present
at the _coucher_ of my mother the Queen, and sitting on a coffer near my
sister Claude, who seemed very sad, the Queen, who was talking to some
one, turned round and saw I was not gone. She desired me to retire to
bed. As I was making my obeisance to her, my sister took me by the arm
and stopped me. Then, sobbing violently, she said, ‘Good God, sister, do
not go!’ This alarmed me exceedingly. The Queen, my mother, was watching
us, and, looking very angry, called my sister to her and scolded her
severely. She peremptorily desired her to say no more to me. Claude
replied that it was not fair to sacrifice me like that, and that danger
might come to me.

“ ‘Never mind,’ said the Queen. ‘Please God, no danger will come to her;
but she must go to bed at once in order to raise no suspicions.’ But
Claude still disputed with her, although I did not hear their words. The
Queen again turned to me angrily and commanded me to go. My sister,
continuing her sobs, bade me ‘good-night.’ I dared ask no questions.
So, cold and trembling, without the least idea of what was the matter, I
went to my rooms and to my closet, where I prayed to God to save me from
I knew not what. The King, my husband, who had not come to bed, sent
word to me to do so.” (They occupied the same room, she tells us, but
separate beds.) “I could not close my eyes all night,” she adds;
“thinking of my sister’s agitation, and sure that something dreadful was
coming. Before daylight my husband got up. He came to my bed-side,
kissed me, and said that he was going to play a game of rackets before
the King was awake. He said he would have justice in the matter of the
attempt on the Admiral’s life. Then he left the room. I, seeing the
daylight, and overcome by sleep, told my nurse to shut the door, that I
might rest longer.”

This took place on Saturday evening, the 23d of August, being the eve of
St. Bartholomew.



CHAPTER XX.

ST. BARTHOLOMEW.


A signal sounded from the belfry of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois. It was
answered by the great bell of the Palace of Justice on the opposite bank
of the Seine. Catherine and her two sons, Charles IX. and the Duc
d’Anjou, had risen long before daylight. Catherine dared not leave
Charles to himself. He was suddenly grown nervous and irresolute. He
might yet countermand everything. Within a small closet over the gate
of the Louvre, facing the quays, the mother and her two sons stood
huddled together. Charles was tallest of the three. The window was open;
it was still dark; the streets were empty; not a sound was heard save
the crashing of the bells. They listened to the wild clamour without;
but not a word was spoken. Catherine felt Charles tremble. She clutched
him tightly, and, dreading to hear the echo of her own voice, she
whispered in his ear, “My son, God has given your enemies into your
hands. Let them not escape you.”

“_Mort de Dieu_, mother, do you take me for a coward?” whispered back
Charles, still trembling.

Suddenly a shot was fired on the Quays. The three conspirators started
as if the weapon had been levelled against themselves.

“Whence this pistol shot came, who fired it, or if it wounded any one, I
know not,” writes the Duc d’Anjou, who as well as his sister has left an
account of the massacre; “but this I know, that the report struck terror
into our very souls. We were seized with such sudden dread at the
horrors we had ourselves invoked, that even the Queen-mother was
dismayed. She despatched one of the King’s gentlemen who waited without,
to command the Duc de Guise to stay all proceedings and not to attack
Admiral Coligni.” This counter order came too late. The Duke had already
left his house.

All the bells in Paris were now ringing furiously; the quays and streets
were rapidly filling with citizens bearing flambeaux. Multitudes came
pouring in from every opening, every window was filled with persons
holding lights, and the crackling of firearms, loud curses, piercing
screams, and wild laughter were heard on every side. In the midst of
this uproar, Henri de Guise, thirsting for revenge upon the supposed
murderer of his father, accompanied by Nevers and D’Angoulême, and a
company of Catholic nobles, made his way to the Hôtel Saint-Pierre, in
the Rue Béthisy, where Coligni lodged.

Coligni, who had the night before been embraced by his sovereign, lay
asleep on his bed. Some of his Protestant friends, Guerchi, Teligny,
with Cornaton and Labonne his gentlemen, who had hastened to him upon
the news of the attempted assassination, lingered in the anteroom. Paré,
the surgeon who had dressed his wounds, had not yet left the hotel. The
Admiral had been conversing with him and with his chaplain Merlin, who
had offered up a thanksgiving for his deliverance. Within the Court five
Swiss Guards stood behind the outer doors; without, in the darkness of
the night, crouched Cossein with fifty arquebusiers, who had been gained
over by the Duc de Guise.

Suddenly, out of the stillness of the night a voice is heard calling
from without, “Open the door--open in the name of the King!” At the
King’s name the street-door is immediately unbarred; Cossein and his men
rush in, poniard the five guards, break open the inner door, and dash up
the stairs. The noise disturbs Cornaton, who descends the stairs; he is
pushed violently backwards amid cries of “_De par le Roi!_” Now the
whole house is aroused, Merlin has risen, and Coligni awakened from his
sleep, calls loudly from the door of his room, “Cornaton, what does this
noise mean?” “My dear Lord,” cries Cornaton hurrying up to him,
wringing his hands, “it means that it is God who summons you! The hall
below is carried by your enemies--Cossein is a traitor--we cannot save
you--we have no means of defence!”

“I understand,” replies Coligni, unmoved. “It is a plot to destroy me
now that I am wounded and cannot defend myself. I have long been
prepared to die. I commend my soul to God. Cornaton, Merlin, and the
others, if the doors are forced you cannot save me, save yourselves.”
Coligni returns to his room.

By this time the Admiral’s retainers are aroused and enter his chamber,
but no sooner does he repeat the words, “Save yourselves, you cannot
save me,” than they lose not a moment in escaping to the leads of the
house. One man only remains with his master; his name is Nicolas Muso.
The door is then shut, barred, and locked.

Meanwhile Cossein, heavily mailed and sword in hand, having slain all he
has found in his way, is on the landing. Besme, a page of the Duc de
Guise, Attin, and Sarbaloux are with him; they force open the door of
Coligni’s room.

The Admiral, his long white hair falling about his shoulders, is seated
in an arm-chair. There is a majesty about him even thus wounded, unarmed
and alone, that daunts his assailants. The traitor Cossein falls back.
Besme advances brandishing his sword.

“Are you Admiral Coligni?” he cries.

“I am,” replies the veteran, following with his eyes the motion of the
sword. “Young man, respect my grey hairs and my infirmities,” and he

[Illustration: ADMIRAL GASPARD DE COLIGNY.

FROM A DRAWING BY FRANÇOIS CLOUET.

(By permission of A. Giraudon, Paris.)]

signs to his arm bound up and swathed to his side. Besme makes a pass at
him. “If I could have died by the hands of a gentleman and not of this
varlet!” exclaims the Admiral. Besme for answer plunges his sword up to
the hilt into Coligni’s breast.

A voice is now heard from without under the window--“Besme, you are very
long; is all over?”

“All is over,” answers Besme, thrusting his head out and displaying his
bloody sword.

“Sirrah, here is the Duc de Guise, and I, the Chevalier d’Angoulême. We
will not believe it until we see the body. Fling it out of the window,
like a good lad.”

With some difficulty the corpse is raised and thrown into the street
below. The gashed and bleeding remains of the old hero fall heavily upon
the pavement. Henri de Guise stoops down to feast his eyes upon his
enemy. The features are so veiled with blood he cannot recognise them.
He takes out his handkerchief and wipes the wrinkled face clean. “I know
you now--Admiral Coligni,” says he, “and I spurn you. Lie there,
poisonous old serpent that murdered my father. Thou shalt shed no more
venom, reptile!” and he kicks the corpse into a corner, amidst the dirt
and mud of the thoroughfare. (Coligni’s dead body[14] is carried to the
gallows at Montfaucon, where it hangs by the feet from a chain of iron.)
Guise then turns to the fifty arquebusiers behind him. “En avant--en
avant, mes enfants!” he shouts; “you have made a good beginning--set
upon the others--slaughter them all--men, women--even infants at the
breast--cut them down.” Sword in hand Guise rushes through the streets
with Nevers, D’Angoulême, and Tavannes, as well as Gondi and De Retz,
who have now joined him, at his back.

Meanwhile, Marguerite de Valois is awakened by some one beating
violently with feet and hands against her door crying out, “Navarre!
Navarre!” “My nurse,” writes she, “thinking it was the King, ran and
opened the door; but it was M. de Séran, grievously wounded and closely
pursued by four archers, who cried out, ‘Kill him; kill him! spare no
one.’ De Séran threw himself on my bed to save himself. I, not knowing
who he was, jumped out, and he with me, holding by me tightly. We both
screamed loudly; I was as frightened as he was, but God sent M. de
Nançay, Captain of the Guards, who finding me in this condition, could
not help laughing. He drove the archers out and spared the life of this
man, whom I put to bed in my closet and kept there till he was well. I
changed my night-dress, which was covered with blood. M. de Nançay
assured me that my husband was safe and with the King. He threw over me
a cloak, and took me to my sister Claude, in whose room I arrived more
dead than alive; specially so when, as I set my foot in the antechamber,
a gentleman named Bourse dropped, pierced by a ball, dead at my feet. I
fell fainting into the arms of M. de Nançay, thinking I was killed also.
A little recovered, I went into the small room beyond where my sister
slept. While I was there, two gentlemen-in-waiting, who attended my
husband, rushed in, imploring me to save their lives. So I went to the
King and to the Queen, my brother and my mother, and falling on my
knees begged that these gentlemen might be spared, which was granted to
me.”

“Having,” continues Marguerite, “failed in the principal purpose, _which
was not so much against the Huguenots as against the Princes of the
blood--the King my husband, and the Prince of Condé_--the Queen, my
mother, came to me and ‘_asked me to break my marriage_.’ But I replied
that I would not; being sure that she only proposed this in order to
murder my husband.”[15]

The magic mirror of Ruggiero had revealed the truth; Henry of Navarre
led a charmed life. Of his escape, against the express command of the
all-powerful Catherine, various accounts are related. He is said to have
been saved by his wife, but of this _she_ says nothing. It is believed
on good authority that, with the Prince de Condé, he went out unusually
early, before daybreak even, in order to prepare for playing that
identical game of rackets, of which he spoke to Marguerite and which
probably saved his life. When it is discovered that these two princes,
Condé and Navarre, are both alive, they are summoned to the King’s
presence. They find Charles, arquebuse in hand, within the same small
closet over the gate of the Louvre. He has been there since daybreak. A
page stands by him, ready to reload his weapon. He is mad with
exultation and excitement; he leans out of window to watch the crowds of
fugitives rush by and to shout to the Swiss Guards below--“Kill--kill
all--cut them all in pieces!” “_Pardieu!_ see,” he roars out, pointing
to the river, “there is a fellow yonder escaping. By the mass,
look--one, two, three--they are swimming across the Seine--at them, at
them--take good aim--shoot them down, the carrion!” Volleys of shot are
the reply. Charles had recovered his nerves; he now looks on Huguenots
as game, and has been potting them with remarkable precision from the
window. With hideous mirth, he boasts to Navarre and Condé how many
heretics he has brought down with his own hand. He counts upon his
fingers the names of the Huguenot chiefs already slaughtered. He yells
with fiendish laughter when he describes how Coligni, whom the night
before he had called “father,” looked when dead. “By the light of God,
it is a royal chase!” shrieks Charles, as the page quickly reloads his
arquebuse. “That last shot was excellent. Not a heretic shall be left in
France.” Again he points his gun and shoots; a piercing cry follows.
Charles nods his head approvingly. “We will have them all--babies and
their mothers. ‘Break the eggs and the nest will rot.’ Our mother says
well--we must reign. We will no longer be contradicted by our subjects.
We will teach them to revere us as the image of the living God. You,
Princes,”--and as he turns to address the King of Navarre and Condé, his
tall, gaunt figure, distorted countenance, bleared and bloodshot eyes,
and matted hair are repulsive to look upon--“You, Princes, I have called
hither, out of compassion for your youth, to give you a chance for your
lives, _as you are alive_,--but by the holy Oriflamme, _I thought you
were both dead already_. You are, both of you, rebels, and sons of
rebels. You must instantly recant and enter the true Church or you must
die. So down on your knees, both of you. Purge yourselves from your
accursed sect. Give me your parole, and your swords too, Princes, that
you will not leave the Louvre; or, _Dieu des Dieux_, you shall be
massacred like the rest!”

Thus did Henry IV. and the Prince de Condé escape death, unknown to, and
contrary to the express orders of Catherine.

Without, Paris is a charnel-house. The streets are choked up by murdered
Huguenots. Carts and litters full of dead bodies, huddled together in a
hideous medley, rumble along the rough causeways, to be shot into the
Seine. The river runs red with blood; its current is dammed up with
corpses. But the Court is merry. Catherine triumphs. Her ladies--_la
petite bande de la Reine_--go forth and pick their way in the gory mud,
to scrutinise the dead, piled in heaps against the walls and in the
courts of the Louvre, to recognise friends or lovers.

On the 6th September the news of the massacre reaches Rome by letters
from the Nuncio. Gregory XIII. commands solemn masses and thanksgivings
to God for the event. The cannon of St. Angelo booms over the papal
city; _feux de joie_ are fired in the principal streets; a medal is
struck; a jubilee is published; a legate is sent into France; a
procession, in which the Pope, Cardinals, and Ministers to the See of
Rome appear, visit the great Basilicas; the Cardinal de Lorraine, uncle
to the Balafré, then at Rome, is present, and in the name of his master,
Charles IX., congratulates his Holiness on the efficacy of his prayers
these _seventeen years past_ for the destruction of heretics.

Blood calls for blood![16] Charles IX., whose royal mandate authorised
the massacre (which lasted seven days and seven nights), falls sick two
years after at the Castle of Vincennes. “I know not what has befallen
me,” he says to his surgeon, Ambrose Paré; “my mind and body both burn
with fever. Asleep or awake, I see the mangled Huguenots pass before me.
They drip with blood; they make hideous faces at me; they point to their
open wounds and mock me. Holy Virgin! I wish, Paré, I had spared the old
and the infirm and the infants at the breasts.” Aged twenty-four,
Charles died, abhorring the mother whose counsels had led him to this
execrable deed--abhorring her so intensely that he could not even bear
her in his sight. In her place he called for the King of Navarre, and
confided to him his last wishes. He died, poor misguided youth, piously
thanking God that he left no children. The blood actually oozed from the
pores of his skin. His cries and screams were horrible.

Thus another King of France passed into the world of spirits, bringing
Henry of Navarre one step nearer the throne. Charles, according to the
prediction of Ruggiero, had died young, bathed in his own blood.

And Catherine? Calm, undaunted, still handsome, she inaugurated a new
reign--that of her third and best beloved son, Henri, Duc d’Anjou and
King of Poland, popularly known by the style and title of Henry III.,
“_by the favour of his mother inert King of France_.”



CHAPTER XXI.

THE END OF CATHERINE DE’ MEDICI.


Fifteen years have passed. The Queen-mother is now seventy. She suffers
from a mortal disease, and lies sick at the Château of Blois.

Hither her son Henry III. and his Court have come to meet the
States-General. Trouble is in the kingdom; for the great Balafré,
supported by Rome and Spain, is in rebellion; Henry totters on his
throne.

And what a throne! What a monarch! Henry, who in his youth was learned,
elegant, sober, who fought at Jarnac and Moncontour[17] like a Paladin,
has become effeminate, superstitious, and vicious. His sceptre is a
cup-and-ball; his sword, a tuft of feathers; he paints and dresses like
a woman, covers himself with jewels, and passes his time in arranging
ecclesiastical processions, or in festivals, pageants, masques, and
banquets. His four favourites (“minions” they are called, and also
“beggars,” from their greed and luxury), De Joyeuse, D’Epernon,
Schomberg, and Maugiron, govern him and the kingdom. They are handsome
and satirical, and think to kill the King’s enemies with ridicule and
_jeux de mots_. But Henri de Guise, who sternly rebukes their ribaldry
and abhors their dissolute manners, is not the man to be conquered by
such weapons as words. He has placed himself at the head of the Catholic
League, negotiates with Spain, and openly aspires to the throne.

For a moment there is peace. Henry before leaving Paris, by the advice
of his mother summoned the Duc de Guise from Nancy to Paris. The Balafré
enters the capital in disguise. The cry, “The Duke is with us!” spreads
over the city like lightning. The populace, who adore Guise and detest
Henry, tear off his mask and cloak and lead him through the streets in
triumph. Catherine, although very ill, is so alarmed at the threatening
aspect of affairs, that she causes herself to be carried out to meet
him, borne in a chair, and so brings him to the Louvre into the presence
of the King. His insolent bearing transports Henry with rage. The
citizens, not to be pacified, fall out with the King’s guards, and there
is a fearful uproar in the city. The Louvre is besieged. Henry, haughty
and obstinate, is no longer safe in Paris. Maréchal d’Ornano offers to
assassinate the Duc de Guise, but the King, by advice of D’Epernon,
affects to yield to the policy of his mother, and to accept the
supremacy of Guise. Under pretence, however, of a walk in the Tuileries
Gardens, then newly planted, he orders his horses to be saddled, and
escapes out of Paris, by way of Montmartre, attended only by his
favourites. He reaches Chartres in safety. At Chartres he is joined by
Catherine, and a treaty is signed--a treaty of false peace, for already
D’Epernon and Joyeuse are whispering into the King’s ear that “the Duc
de Guise must die.”

The treaty stipulates that Henry be declared Head of the Catholic
League; that all Huguenots be banished--notably the King of Navarre,
heir-presumptive to the throne; and that the Duc de

[Illustration: CATHERINE DE’ MEDICI.]

Guise be Lieutenant-General of the kingdom. The States-General are to be
immediately assembled; and Henri de Guise, once the poetic lover, now
hardened into the cold, ambitious bigot--ready to usurp the throne of
France to ensure the triumph of the Catholic party, and exclude the King
of Navarre--canvasses France, to insure a majority for the Holy League
against those pertinacious enemies of orthodoxy, Condé and Navarre.

The King, meanwhile, overridden and humiliated, agrees to everything,
and listens complacently to D’Epernon, who tells him, “He will never be
king while Guise lives.” So, for the moment, there is peace.

Now the King has left Chartres, and is at Blois. The Balafré and his
brother the Cardinal are also there to attend the Parliament, which is
summoned, and to make known their grievances. So the sunny little town
of Blois, sloping sweetly downwards to the Loire, with its superb castle
marked by towers, turrets, broad flat roofs, painted windows, and ample
courts, is the theatre on which the great battle is to be fought between
the rival houses of Guise and Valois. All the chiefs on either side are
to be present at a council which is to precede the meeting of the
Assembly. Henry--at the instigation of D’Epernon--the better to play his
perfidious game has communicated at the same altar with the Balafré and
his brother the Cardinal, and given them the kiss of peace to seal their
reconciliation.

Catherine’s apartments are on the first floor of the château,--a
gallery-saloon, the diamonded windows set in painted arches overlooking
the town, the dark walls, decorated with a crowned C and a monogram in
gold; her oratory, with a large oval window where an altar stands; her
writing-closet, with many concealed drawers and _secrets_ in the
walls--a hidden stair leading to an observatory, and a sleeping-room
with a recess for her bed. So unaltered are these rooms that the
presence of Catherine still haunts them; she faces one at every step.

In her bed within that recess the great Queen lies dying. She is old and
broken, and her mind wanders at times through excess of pain. But she
cannot die in peace, for she knows that her son Henry--the last of her
race--meditates a hideous crime; a crime in which she would have gloried
once, but now, racked with bodily suffering and mental anguish, with
remorse for the past and terror for the future, she shudders at the very
thought.

She calls him to her. Henry, her beloved Anjou! As he enters her
chamber, she struggles upright on her bed. No one would have recognised
the majestic Queen in the hideous skeleton that now speaks.

“What are you about to do, my son?” she asks in a tremulous voice;
“answer me, Henry. I fear I know too well what is on your mind. God
grant you may succeed, but I fear evil will come of it. The Duke and his
brother are too powerful.”

“The very reason they should die, my mother. I shall never be King of
France while they live.”

“But, Henry,” gasps Catherine, trembling from weakness and excitement,
as she clasps her son’s hand, “have you taken measures to assure
yourself of the cities? Have you communicated with the Holy Father? Do
this, do it at once!”

“Madame, good measures have been taken; trouble not yourself further.”

“But, my son,” continues Catherine with increasing agitation, “the
Cardinal de Guise has been here to visit me; they are full of suspicion.
The Cardinal says that I have betrayed them. I replied, ‘May I die, my
cousin, if I have anything to do with any treason whatever.’ My son, I
am in great agony,” and she groans and turns her eyes glowing with fever
full upon him; “do not listen to D’Epernon; let there be peace while I
live, and after.”

“What!” cries Henry, disengaging himself from her and striding up and
down the room. “What! spare, when Guise, triumphant among the citizens
of Paris, dared to lay his hand on the hilt of his sword in our very
presence at the Louvre! Spare him who drove me a fugitive from the
capital! Spare the chief of the League, who, assisted by Spain, is
dismembering France! Spare them, when they will both be within this
castle to-night, to attend the council! Spare _them_ who never spared
ME! No, my mother, I will NOT spare them! Your sickness has weakened
your courage. ‘A nut for a nut’ was once your motto. It is mine. If the
Balafré and the Cardinal enter these doors to-morrow they shall not go
hence alive; they shall die like rebels as they are.”

“Alas! my son,” says the Queen in a very low voice,--she has fallen back
exhausted upon the bed,--“alas! it is easy to cut the thread of life;
but once cut, can you mend it? Shed no more blood, Henry, for my sake,
for I am dying. Let my last hour be undisturbed. I have much that
troubles me,” and she heaves a deep sigh. “Too much blood has flowed
already. Spare them, Henry, spare them.”

“My mother, _you_ never spared an enemy when within your power, nor will
I. Either Guise or I must die. You have taught me that all means are
good to save the sovereign and support his authority. My brother
Charles, by your order, spared not Coligni and massacred the Huguenots
at the festival of St. Bartholomew. _I helped him._ The Guises, madame,
must die.”

“But, my son,” replies Catherine, wringing her bony hands, and
struggling again to raise herself upright, “it is sacrilege. You have
sworn peace upon the altar; you have eaten together the body of the
Lord.”

Catherine’s voice is so feeble, that the King either does not hear, or
does not heed her. He still strides up and down the room, speaking from
time to time as if to himself.

“Every detail is arranged; we cannot fail. To-morrow the guards within
the walls will be doubled; a hundred Swiss will be posted at the
entrance in the courtyard and on the grand staircase. When the Duke
arrives, Crillon will see that the outer gates are closed. As soon as
Guise enters the council-chamber, I will send for him into my closet.
When he has passed through the guard-room to reach it, Nambre will bar
the door, that he may not return. My trusty Dalahaide and the
guards--the 45th--who will be hidden on the secret stair behind the
arras, will then rush down, fall upon the traitor as he passes through
the guard-room, and finish him.”

Catherine, with haggard eyes, listens breathlessly. When the King has
ceased speaking and looks round for a reply, she has fainted.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning the sky was black with clouds. The month was December.
It rained violently, and the wind howled round the corners of the
château. Catherine, lying in the uneasy slumber of disease, was awakened
at eight o’clock by the sound of heavy footsteps overhead. The state
apartments are on the second floor, immediately over and corresponding
with those of the Queen-mother. They still remain, gloomy and
ill-omened, haunted by evil memories. Every plank has its history--each
corner a ghastly detail. There is the hidden stair within the wall,
concealed by tapestry, where Dalahaide and the guards hid; the door
against which the great Balafré fell, stabbed by Malines in the breast,
where he was spurned by the heel of the King, as he himself had spurned
Coligni, and where he lay long uncovered, until an old carpet was found
in which to wrap his corpse.

       *       *       *       *       *

Catherine, listening breathlessly, hears the council assembling. Heavy
footsteps are passing backwards and forwards through the guard-room
overhead to the royal gallery where the council is to meet. Then all is
hushed, and the face of the dying queen flushes with hope, and her hands
clasp themselves in prayer, if, perchance, at the last moment Henry has
relented and listened to her entreaties to spare the Duke.

A moment after a door closes violently. She hears a single footstep--a
powerful and firm footstep. It crosses the floor. Then came loud
tramplings, as of a rush of armed men, a clash of weapons, a fall as of
a heavy body; then a terrible cry--

“À moi, mes amis!--trahison!--à moi, Guise,--je me meurs.”

The dying woman knows that all is over; she sinks back on her bed raving
in delirium. In a few days she was dead.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE LAST OF THE VALOIS.


We are at Saint-Cloud. The time, the wars of the League. At the head of
the Leaguers is the Duc de Mayenne, only living brother of the Guises.
Henry III. commands the royal forces. With him is Henry of Navarre.
Since the Queen-mother’s death the King of France has become reconciled
to his brother-in-law. He shows himself almost a hero. They are both
defending the Crown to which Mayenne aspires. Eight months have passed
since the murder of the Balafré. That treacherous deed has done the King
no good; Mayenne lives to avenge his brother’s death, and the Catholic
party is still more alienated from the King since he has called a
heretic into his councils. The royal troops are lying encamped among the
hilly woodlands of the park towards Ville d’Avray and Meudon, then, as
now, pleasant to the eye.

On the 1st August, 1589, Henry sat in the long gallery of the palace
(until lately lined with pictures and gorgeously decorated), playing at
cards with his attendants. He holds himself so upright, that he moves
neither his head nor his feet, and his hands as little as possible. A
hood hangs upon his shoulders; a little cap, with a flower stuck in it,
is placed over one ear; round his neck, suspended by a broad blue
ribbon, is a basket of gold wickerwork, full of little puppies.

Monsieur d’O, Seigneur of Fiesnes and Maillebois, first gentleman of the
bed-chamber, and Governor of Paris, has been joking him about the
predictions of an astrologer, named Osman, who has arrived that evening
at Saint-Cloud in company with some noblemen.

“By our Ladye-mother! let us have him in and hear what he can say,”
cries the King. “These fellows are diverting. I will question him
myself.”

Osman is sent for; but startled at so sudden and unexpected an interview
with the King himself in such a whimsical attire, scarcely knows how to
reply to the gibes his Majesty addressed to him.

“Come, come,” says the King, “let us hear what you can do. They tell me
you draw horoscopes. Let me have a specimen of your skill.”

“Sire,” replies Osman, somewhat recovered from his confusion, “I will
obey you; but, as sure as fate, the heavens this night are unpropitious.
The light of the moon is veiled; there are signs of mourning among the
stars; lamentations and woe are written in the planets; a great
misfortune hangs over you--Beware!”

“By St. Denis!” cries the King, “the fellow is glib enough with his
tongue; but tell me, good heathen, are the stars in mourning for a king
or for an emperor?”

“Sire, they mourn over the approaching extinction of your race.”

“Heaven preserve us!” answers the King, with affected consternation,
caressing his puppies. “But tell me now, if you have any knowledge, what
do the celestial powers think of those accursed rebels, the Leaguers,
and their chief, the Duc de Mayenne? Is that bold traitor in favour
among the stars?”

Osman does not at once reply; but, advancing to the window, throws open
the sash, and silently observes the heavens.

“Sire, I see one star shining brightly in the firmament.”

“Where?” asks the King.

“Just over the Camp of Meudon, where Henry of Navarre lies this night.
But look, your Majesty, at that other star there over the woods. It
blazes for a moment; and now, see--it falls; it has disappeared behind
the palace!”

“By the mother of God,” says the King, reddening either with terror or
passion, “I have had enough of this gibberish. Hark ye, you wandering
Jew! no more of these ugly portents, or, by St. Louis, the guardian of
our race, we will hold you warrant for all that may happen to our
person.”

Osman shrunk back from the window, trembling with fright. He does not
wait for permission to depart, but as the King rises to address some
gentlemen he glides from the gallery.

“If ever I heard a voice hoarse with blood, it is his,” mutters the
astrologer, pointing to the King as he crept away. “By the brightness of
the celestial bodies, there will be evil this night. I will never draw
horoscope more, if to-morrow’s sun finds Henry of Valois alive. There is
blood on him, but he sees it not. His star has fallen, he beheld it; but
he understood not the portent.”

As Osman crosses the circular hall opening from the gallery and leading
to the principal staircase, he meets the Comte d’Auvergne[18] conversing
with a Dominican monk, whose sinister countenance expressed every evil
passion. A crowd of attendants had assembled and are listening to the
conversation.

“Good father,” says M. d’Auvergne, addressing the Dominican, “you must
not, at this late hour, insist on seeing his Majesty; he is engaged.”

“But, indeed, monseigneur, I do insist upon seeing him without a
moment’s delay, and alone. It is on a matter of life and death.” The
monk’s bold words and determined bearing evidently impress M. d’Auvergne
in his favour.

“Are you the bearer of any despatches for his Majesty?” he asks. “Those
might be delivered, although his Majesty has just retired and is at this
moment in his oratory, busy with his devotions.”

As he spoke, D’Auvergne scans him curiously; the monk perceives the
look, draws his cowl closer over his face, and withdraws from the full
glare of the lights on the staircase.

“I am the bearer of letters of the greatest importance,
monseigneur--letters from the President Harlay, now a prisoner of the
League; but I am charged to deliver them in person, and into the hand of
his Majesty alone. Nor is that all; I have a secret communication to
make, which it behoves the King to hear without delay. Good gentlemen,”
and he faces round to the courtiers who are gathered about him, “I pray
you, one of you, go to the King and tell him what I say.”

“Impossible,” replies the Count d’O, who came from the gallery at that
moment, and hears the last few words; “impossible. His Majesty is now
alone; I have just left him. He is fatigued, and desired not to be
disturbed.”

“Good God!” cries the monk, clasping his hands, “if I do not see him
to-night, I shall never see him.”

“And why not, I pray?” asks the Comte d’Auvergne. “Come and sup with my
people to-night; and to-morrow, as early as you please, I will take you
to his Majesty. Follow me.”

“I wash my hands of all the evil this delay will cause,” exclaims the
monk, following him reluctantly. “On your head be it, monseigneur.” They
quitted the hall together.

All this time Osman had stood near watching them. He had not lost a
syllable of the conversation. “Did I not say that there was blood?” he
mutters half aloud; “is it not true? The knowledge of it came to me in a
vision. Now I have read it also in the stars. The blood of the King is
on that monk. His robes are spotted with it. In his hand, while he
spoke, there was a dagger. None else beheld it; but I saw it, and the
point streamed with the King’s life-blood. Woe! woe! woe! Would that I
could

[Illustration: CHÂTEAU DE BLOIS.]

speak! Would that they would listen! Before many hours, death will be
within these walls. Alas! it is given to me to avert it if they would
but hear me.”

The astrologer slowly follows the steps of the Comte d’Auvergne and the
Dominican, descending the stairs after them. They enter a suite of rooms
on the ground floor of the palace. The monk had now thrown back his cowl
and displayed a face yet young, but seamed and wrinkled with deep lines.
His eyes are dull and bloodshot; his thin hair scarcely shades his
projecting forehead. He stands in the centre of the apartment, silent,
sullen, and preoccupied.

“What is your name?” asks the Count sternly, turning towards him.

“Jacques Clément,” is the short rejoinder.

“You say you are the bearer of letters to the King?”

“Yes,” replies he, “from Monsieur de Brienne and the President Harlay,
now both prisoners in the Bastille. There is my passport; you see it is
signed by Monsieur de Brienne.”

“Show me the President’s letter,” says D’Auvergne; “his writing is as
familiar to me as my own. If you are a spy, you will meet with no mercy
here,” and he measured him from head to foot with eyes full of doubt and
suspicion.

The monk draws forth a parcel of unsealed letters, which the Count reads
and examines.

“It is well,” he says. “These are proofs that you are a messenger from
the King’s friends. But how did you, carrying such dangerous
credentials, contrive to pass the gates of Paris? Answer me that, my
father.”

“My habit protected me,” replies the monk, devoutly crossing himself,
“our Blessed Lady gave me courage and address to escape from those
Philistines. Once past the gates, I came here in company with Monsieur
de la Guesle’s people.”

“You say, then, that you will answer with your head that two gates of
Paris will open to the King if he advances?”

“I swear before God that this is the truth,” replies the monk, again
crossing himself; “and my God is not that false one worshipped by the
Huguenot dogs under Henry of Navarre, but the true God of the Holy
Catholic Church. Let the King trust to his loyal Catholic subjects, and
beware of the heretics that are in his council and amongst his troops.”
And the monk scowls around. His eyes meet those of Osman the astrologer,
which are fixed on him with the intensity of a cat ready to spring.
Jacques Clément trembles. For an instant his courage forsakes him and he
turns pale.

“Well, father,” says D’Auvergne, laughing, “you are true to your
trade--a steady Catholic. We understand; you can smell a heretic a mile
off, I’ll be sworn.”

The monk makes no reply, and to avoid further discussion turns to a
table on which supper is spread, and sitting down, begins to eat.

The Attorney-General de la Guesle having been told of the arrival of a
mysterious monk, enters the room and confirms what he had said of their
meeting outside the gates of Paris.

The Comte d’Auvergne, after scrutinising Jacques Clément for some
minutes, turns aside to Monsieur de la Guesle, and whispers--

“I do not know why, but I have a strange suspicion of that fellow. All
he says seems fair enough and his papers are properly signed; but there
is something about his dark, sinister face and surly answers that alarms
me.”

Osman, seeing them converse apart, advances eagerly from the bottom of
the room, and addresses them in a low voice, “If monseigneur will only
listen to me, he will not admit this monk within a hundred miles of his
Majesty. The stars, Count, are----”

“Confound the stars!” interrupts Monsieur de la Guesle. “Do you take us
for a parcel of fools? Go prate elsewhere.”

The noblemen seat themselves at the upper end of the supper-table. The
Comte d’Auvergne, Monsieur de la Guesle, and other gentlemen are served
by an old valet who, after pouring out the wine all round, stands behind
the chair of his master, the Count. His eyes are fixed on Jacques
Clément, who had drawn forth from the folds of his sleeve a large dagger
with which he cuts up his meat.

“May it please monseigneur,” the valet whispers into the Count’s ear,
“the reverend father knows how to travel in these stormy times. He has
not forgotten to bring a goodly dagger with him; though perhaps the
breviary, being less useful, is forgotten.”

“Not so, brother,” answers the monk who, overhearing his whisper, draws
out a missal from his bosom; “I never travel without the one and the
other--defences for the body and the soul--whichever may most need it.”

But the garrulous old servant, once set talking, is not to be silenced.
He begins a long account, in a low voice, addressed to the Count, of how
the monk, on arriving, had entertained him and his fellows in the
courtyard with a history of the death of Holofernes the tyrant, by the
hands of a Jewish maiden Judith, the saviour of her country.

“A bloody tale, forsooth,” says M. de la Guesle, eying the monk.

“Ay, blood, blood!” mutters Osman who is seated below the salt, next the
Comte d’Auvergne. “See you not, my lord,” he continues, half aloud to
the Count, holding up his hand warningly, “that this monk is a mad
fanatic? Admit him to no speech with the King, I entreat you; he is mad,
monseigneur.”

“Oh,” answers the Count, in low voice, “I will watch over his Majesty.
As the bearer of letters of importance I cannot refuse him an audience,
but I will answer that no mischief comes of the meeting.”

Soon after, supper being ended, the party separates. The monk is
conducted to a bed; and Osman, heaving many heavy sighs, retires to the
room appropriated to him, where he consults the stars, until the dawn of
day obliterates them and ends his labour.

The next day is the 2d of August, and the King, who has been informed of
the arrival of a monk with letters over night, commands his early
attendance in his bed-chamber. The Comte d’Auvergne conducts Jacques
Clément into the presence of Henry, who sits in an arm-chair, only
partially dressed, close to the bed. As the communication is to be
private, the King signs to D’Auvergne, Clermont, and the other
attendants present, to retire to the farther end of the room; then he
stretches out his hand to receive the packet from Jacques Clément, who
in presenting it bows his head, and stands motionless, his arms crossed
on his breast.

As Henry’s attention is absorbed and his eyes are bent upon the page,
Jacques Clément suddenly draws out the dagger he carried concealed in
his sleeve, springs forward, and plunges it up to the hilt in the King’s
abdomen.

“Help!” groans the King, with difficulty plucking out the weapon and
flinging it on the floor. “Help! the wretch has stabbed me. I am
killed--kill him!”

D’Auvergne rushes forward. The pages and gentlemen in attendance, the
guards outside, and Monsieur de la Guesle, who is waiting for an
audience, all burst into the room.

The King is lying back in the arm-chair; a pool of blood stains the
floor from a deep wound; Jacques Clément still stands immovable before
him. Swords flash in the air; some fly to support the dying monarch,
some to raise an alarm over the palace; others, transported with fury,
fall upon the monk, who offers no resistance. He is speedily despatched.
Osman, hearing the uproar, enters. “What!” cries he, “is the King dead?”

“Not quite,” is the reply.

“Who did it?”

“Jacques Clément.”

“Sainte Marie!” groans the astrologer, wringing his hands, “if you had
listened to me this would never have happened. Did I not say there was
blood on that monk? Did I not say that the star of the House of Valois
had fallen? Alas! alas! If you had but listened!”

At this moment M. d’O and the Comte d’Auvergne leave the King’s room to
send for a surgeon.

“Why did you kill the assassin? We might have tortured him, and
discovered his accomplices,” says M. d’O, while they await the messenger
whom they had despatched.

“I did not kill him,” answered the Comte d’Auvergne. The King was seated
when he entered, and, taking the wretch’s papers in his hands, was busy
reading them. M. Clermont and I were present, but had retired a little
to leave his Majesty more at liberty. As he rose from his seat and was
addressing the monk, the traitor drew a dagger from his sleeve and
plunged it into the King’s stomach. The King cried out, “Kill him--he
has killed me!” and, drawing forth the dagger from the wound, gave two
or three cuts at the assassin, and then fell. We rushed to his aid, and
smote the fellow, who was unarmed, right and left. At the noise, the
doors burst open, and the gentlemen and pages in their rage finished him
with a hundred blows. Seeing that he was dead, I ordered him to be
stripped and thrown out of the window, in order to be recognised if
possible.”

“What does it matter who recognises him?” answers M. d’O. “Have the
papers that he showed the King disappeared also?”

Before the Count could reply the surgeon appears. He desires that every
one shall be turned out of the King’s bedroom whilst he examines him. He
pronounces the wound mortal; the dagger was poisoned. Henry, after great
anguish, expires in a few hours. The letters were forgeries. The body of
Jacques Clément, having first been drawn by four horses through the
streets of Saint-Cloud, is burned by the common hangman. He is much
lauded, however, at Rome, where Sixtus V. reigns as Pontiff; at Paris
his effigy is placed upon the altars beside the Host.

Meanwhile the King of Navarre is within his quarters at Meudon. His
minister Sully lodges a little way down the hill, in the house of a man
called Sauvat. Sully is just sitting down to supper, when his secretary
enters and desires him to go instantly to his master.

Henry of Navarre tells him that an express has arrived from Saint-Cloud,
and that the King is already dead, or dying. “Sully,” he says, “for what
I know, I may be at this very instance King of France. Yet, who will
support me? Half my army will desert if Henry be really dead. Not a
prince of the blood--not a minister will stand by me. I am here, as it
were, in the midst of an enemy’s country, with but a handful of
followers. What is to be done?”

“Stay where you are, Sire, is my advice,” answers Sully. “If you are,
indeed, now King of France, remain with such as are faithful to you. A
monarch should never fly. But let us go to Saint-Cloud and hear the
truth.”

“That is just what I desire,” answers Henry. “We will start as soon as
our horses are saddled.”

As they enter the gates of Saint-Cloud, a man rushes by them, shouting,
“The King is dead--the King is dead!” Henry reins up his horse. The
Swiss Guard, posted round the château, perceive him. They throw down
their arms and cast themselves at his feet. “Sire,” they cry, “now you
are our King and master, do not forsake us.” Biron, the Duc de
Bellegarde, the Comte d’O, M. de Châteauvieux, and De Dampierre come up;
they all warmly salute Henry as their sovereign.

But the bonfires that already blaze in the streets of Paris at the news
of the death of the King, warn Henry of Navarre that he must fight as
many battles to gain the Crown, as he has already done to secure his
personal liberty.



CHAPTER XXIII.

DON JUAN.


The wars of the League rage fiercer than ever. By the death of the last
Valois, Henry III., Henry IV., a Bourbon, is King of France.[19] But he
is only acknowledged by his Protestant subjects. To the Catholics he is
but a rebel, and still only King of Navarre. The Duc de Mayenne (a
Guise, brother of the Balafré), subsidised with money and troops by
Spain, is the orthodox pretender to the

[Illustration: HENRY IV.

FROM A CONTEMPORARY PAINTING IN THE MUSEUM AT VERSAILLES.]

throne. The capital, Paris, is with him. The two Henries, reconciled
after the death of Catherine de’ Medici, encamped with their respective
forces at Saint-Cloud, were about to invest the city. But now Henry III.
is dead. His successor, Henry of Navarre, weakened in influence, troops,
and money, is forced to raise the siege and retire. Henry IV. had at
this time but 3,000 troops, while the army of Mayenne numbered 32,000
men. Then came help from England. The victory of Ivry was gained, Henry
again invested Paris and encamped on the heights of Montmartre. It was
now he uttered that characteristic _mot_:--“I am like the true mother in
the judgment of Solomon,--I would rather not have Paris at all than see
it torn to pieces.”

At this time the fortune of war called the King in many places. He loved
an adventurous life. Brave to a fault, he rode hither and thither like a
knight-errant, regardless of his personal safety, accompanied only by a
few attendants.

Although a warrior and a statesman, Henry was a true child of the
mountains. Born under the shadows of the Pyrenees, he would as soon
encamp under a hedge as lie on a bed of down; would rather eat dried ham
spiced with garlic than dine sumptuously at Jarnet’s Palace, at the
Marais or at “Le Petit More,” the polite _traiteur_ of that day; would
quaff the _petit cru_ of his native grape with more relish than the
costliest wines from the vineyards of Champagne or Bordeaux. Henry was
not born upon the banks of the Garonne, but a more thorough Gascon never
lived,--his hand upon his sword, his foot in the stirrup, his gun slung
across his shoulder, the first in assault, the last in retreat, ready
to slay the wild boar of his native forests, or lute in hand to twang a
roundelay in honour of the first Dulcinea he encountered. Boastful,
fearless, capricious; his versatility of accomplishments suited the
changing aspects of the times. He was plain of speech, rough in
manner--with a quaint jest alike for friend or foe; irregular in his
habits, eating at no stated times, but when hungry voraciously devouring
everything that pleased him, especially fruit and oysters; negligent,
not to say dirty, in his person, and smelling strong of garlic. A man
who called a spade a spade, swore like a trooper, and hated the parade
of courts; was constant in friendship, fickle in love, promised
everything freely, especially marriage, to any beauty who caught his
eye; a boon companion among men, a libertine with women, a story-teller,
cynical in his careless epicureanism, and so profound a believer in “the
way of fate,” that reckless of the morrow he extracted all things from
the passing hour.

He is now thirty-three years old, of middle height, broad-shouldered,
and coarsely made. His swarthy skin is darkened by constant exposure; he
looks battered, wrinkled, and dissipated. His long nose overhangs his
grisly moustache, and a mocking expression lurks in the corners of his
mouth. The fire of his eyes is unquenched, and the habit of command is
stamped on every motion.

He is with his army at Mantes. It is evening; he is surrounded by a few
friends, and from talk of war the conversation turns to women. The Duc
de Bellegarde, captain of light horse, the close friend and constant
companion of the King, sits beside him. He has a noble presence, is
supple, graceful, gentle in speech and generous in nature.

Bellegarde speaks boastingly of the beauty of a certain lady whom he is
engaged to marry, Gabrielle d’Estrées, daughter of the Marquis
d’Estrées.

“_Cap de Dieu!_” exclaims Henry, after listening to Bellegarde in
silence; “I have heard of the lady, one of the daughters of our brave
general of artillery, Antoine d’Estrées; but I will back my bewitching
Abbess of Montmartre, Marie de Beauvilliers, against your Gabrielle.”

“Not if your Majesty saw her, believe me,” replies Bellegarde, warmly.

“You are a boaster, Bellegarde. You dare not produce your paragon.”

“On the contrary, Sire, I only desire that Mademoiselle d’Estrées should
be seen, for then alone she can be appreciated.”

“Say you so, Bellegarde? That is fair; will you bet a thousand crowns on
Gabrielle against Marie?”

“I accept, Sire; but how can we decide!”

“You see the lady. It is easily managed. Do you visit her often?”

“Your Majesty seemingly forgets I am engaged to marry her.”

“I understand. Now, Bellegarde, I forbid you, as your sovereign and
master, to see this fair lady, except in my company. _Par Dieu!_ I will
refuse you leave of absence.”

Bellegarde’s heart misgave him. The King’s vehemence alarms him. He saw
too late the mistake that he has made.

“Now, Bellegarde, don’t look like a doctor of the Sorbonne in a fix;
Mademoiselle d’Estrées will not object if I go in your company?”

“Your Majesty must consider that I have no excuse for introducing you,”
replies he, with some hesitation. “Besides, consider, Sire, the roads
are unsafe and skirmishers are abroad.”

“Tut! tut! man; when did I ever care for that when a fair lady was in
the way? I insist upon going, or you shall not either. Both or none.
Listen how it shall be managed. I will disguise myself as--well, let me
see--a Spaniard; no one will suspect me in that character. You shall
introduce me as an Hidalgo, Don Juan, we will say”; and a wicked leer
lights up his countenance. “Don Juan, your prisoner,--taken in a
_mêlée_, now on parole; and my poor Chicot[20] shall go with us, too,
for company.”

Gabrielle was then living at the paternal Castle of Cœuvres, which
stood on a wooded height between Soissons and Laon, with her father and
her sisters. She was passionately attached to the seductive Bellegarde,
and anticipated their speedy union with all imaginable happiness.

One evening, while she was indulging in those agreeable musings proper
to the state called “being in love,” Bellegarde was abruptly announced.
He was accompanied by two gentlemen: one, short in stature, with a
comical expression of countenance, was introduced as Monsieur Chicot;
the other, by name “Don Juan,” neither tall nor short, but with very
broad shoulders, had greyish hair, highly coloured cheeks, a swarthy
skin, and was remarkable for a prominent nose and exceedingly audacious
eyes.

Gabrielle rose in haste and was about to fling her arms round
Bellegarde, but, on seeing his two companions, she drew back, welcoming
them all with a more formal courtesy.

Gabrielle was eighteen, tall, slim, and singularly graceful. The
severity of her aquiline features was relieved by the bluest eyes and a
most delicate pink and white complexion; webs of auburn hair flowed over
her shoulders. She cast a curious glance at her lover’s singular
companions; she was surprised and vexed that Bellegarde had not come
alone, and to find him cold and reserved. However, any shortcomings on
his part were amply made up by the cordial accolade of the Spanish Don,
who extolled her beauty to her face, and, without asking permission,
kissed her on the cheek.

Gabrielle’s delicacy was hurt at this freedom; she reproached herself
for the frankness with which she had received strangers, believing them
to be friends of her lover. Casting a helpless glance at him, she looked
down, blushed and retreated to a distant part of the room, where she
seated herself.

“Pray, madame, excuse our friend,” said Chicot, seeing the confusion of
Gabrielle at such unexpected familiarity; “he is a Spaniard, only newly
arrived in France; he is quite unacquainted with the usages of the
country.”

“By the mass!” cried Bellegarde, evidently ill at ease, and placing
himself in front of his love, “Spaniard, indeed! I, for my part, know no
country in the world where gentlemen are permitted, thus uninvited, to
salute the ladies--at least, in civilised latitudes. It is well
Mademoiselle’s father was not present.”

His annoyance was, however, quite lost on the Don, who, his eyes fixed
in bold admiration on Gabrielle, did not heed it.

“Bellegarde,” said Gabrielle, blushing to her forehead, seeing his
deeply-offended look, “excuse this stranger, I entreat, for my sake; I
am sure he meant no offence. Let not the joy I feel at seeing you be
overcast by this little occurrence.” And she rose, advanced to where he
stood, looked fondly at him, and took his hand in both of hers.

This appeal was enough. Bellegarde, though anxious, was no longer angry,
and, upon Gabrielle’s invitation, the party seated themselves, Gabrielle
placing herself beside Bellegarde.

“This gentleman, madame,” said Chicot, turning towards Gabrielle, “whose
admiration of you has led him to offend, is our prisoner; he surrendered
to us yesterday in the _mêlée_ at Marly, and, his ransom paid, to-morrow
morning he will start to join the army of the Duke of Parma. Though
somewhat hot-headed and wilful he is an excellent soldier; he knows how
to behave in the battle-field, if his manners are otherwise too free,”
and Chicot turned round his head and winked at Don Juan, who laughed.

“At least, gentlemen, now you are here,” said Gabrielle, “by whatever
chance--and the chance must be good that brings you to me” (and her blue
eyes turned towards Bellegarde)--“you will partake of some refreshment.
I beg you to do so in the

[Illustration: DIANA DE POITIERS, BY JEAN GOUJON.

FROM THE CHÂTEAU OF ANET, NOW IN THE LOUVRE.

(By permission of Levy, Paris.)]

name of Monsieur de Bellegarde, my affianced husband, my father being
absent.”

“Fair lady,” said the Spaniard, breaking silence for the first time, and
speaking in excellent French, “I never before rejoiced so much in being
able to understand the French tongue as spoken by your dulcet voice;
this is the happiest moment of my life, for it has introduced me to the
fairest of your sex. I repeat it deliberately--the fairest of your sex;”
and he looked significantly at Bellegarde. “I accept your invitation,
readily. Were I fortunate enough to be your prisoner instead of the
Captain’s, my ransom would never be paid, I warrant.”

“_Cap de Dieu!_” exclaimed Chicot, grinning from ear to ear, “the
Spanish Dons well merit their reputation for gallantry, but our friend
here, Don Juan, outdoes them all, and, indeed, every one of his nation.”

“Madame,” broke in the Spaniard, very red in the face and speaking with
great vehemence, not appearing to hear this remark, and still addressing
Gabrielle, on whom his eyes were riveted, “I declare if any one, be he
noble or villein, knight or king, dare to say that any woman under God’s
sun surpasses you in beauty or grace, I declare him to be false and
disloyal, and with fitting opportunity I will prove, in more than words,
that he lies to the teeth.”

“Come, come, my good friend,” interrupted Bellegarde, much discomposed,
“do not, I beseech you, go into these heroics; you will alarm this lady.
If you heat yourself in this way, the night air will give you cold.
Besides, remember, Señor, this lady, Mademoiselle d’Estrées, is my
affianced bride, and that certain conditions were made between us before
I introduced you, which conditions you swore to observe”; and Bellegarde
looked reproachfully at him.

Don Juan felt the implied reproof, and, for the first time since he had
entered, moved his eyes to some other object than the smiling face of
Gabrielle.

Her sisters now joined them. Although they much resembled her, and would
have been comely in any other company, Gabrielle so far exceeded them as
to throw them altogether into the shade. They were both immediately
saluted with nearly equal warmth by the Spanish Don, who evidently would
not reform his manners in this particular. Like Gabrielle, they were
quite abashed and retreated to the farther side of the room.

“Let me tell you, ladies,” said Chicot, advancing towards them, “if you
were to see our friend, Don Juan, in a justaucorps of satin and
glittering with gold and precious stones, with a white panache in his
velvet cap, you would not think he looked so much amiss. But are you
going to give us nothing to eat? What has the Don done that he is to be
starved? Though he be a Spaniard, and serves against Henry of Navarre,
he is a Christian, and has a stomach like any other.”

On this hint the whole party adjourned to the eating-room. Gabrielle
carefully avoided the Don and kept close to Bellegarde, who looked the
picture of misery. Her sisters clung to her, Chicot was bursting with
ill-suppressed laughter, and the Don was fully occupied in endeavouring
to place himself beside Gabrielle, on whom his eyes were again intently
fixed. At table, spite of Bellegarde’s manœuvres, he contrived to
place himself beside her. He eat and drank voraciously; perpetually
proposed toasts in Gabrielle’s honour, and confused her to such a
degree, that she heartily repented having invited him to remain,
particularly as the annoyance of Bellegarde did not escape her. In this
state of general misunderstanding, the merry Chicot again came to the
rescue.

“Let us drink to the health of the King of France and Navarre!” cried
he. “Come, Don Juan, forget your politics and join us: here’s prosperity
and success to our gallant Henry--long may he live!”

“This is a toast we must drink standing and in chorus,” said Bellegarde,
rising.

The Spaniard smiled.

“But why,” observed Gabrielle, “does Don Juan bear arms against the King
of France if he is his partisan?”

“Fair lady, your remark is just,” replied the Don, “but the fortune of
war drives a soldier into many accidents; however, I only wish all
France was as much the King’s friend as I am.”

Chicot now took up a lute which lay near, tried the strings, and in a
somewhat cracked voice sang the following song, wagging his head and
winking at the Spaniard as he did so:--

    “Vive Henri Quatre,
     Vive ce roi vaillant;
     Ce diable à quatre,
     A le triple talent
     De boire et de battre
     Et d’être vert galant.”

“Long live the King! Vive Henri Quatre!” was drunk, with all the
honours, in a chorus of applause. The Spaniard wiped a tear from his
eye, and sat down without speaking.

“_Cap de Dieu!_” cried Chicot, “the right cause will triumph at last.”

“Yes,” replied Bellegarde, “sooner or later we shall see our brave King
enter Paris and his noble palace of the Louvre in state; but meanwhile
he must not fool away his time in follies and amours while the League is
in strength.”

“There you speak truth,” said Chicot; “he is too much given to such
games; he’s a very Sardanapalus: and,” continued he, squinting at the
Don with a most comical expression, “if report speak true, at this very
moment his Majesty is off on some adventure touching the rival beauty of
certain ladies, to the manifest neglect of his Crown and the ruin of his
affairs.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Gabrielle, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, “if some
second Agnes Sorel would but appear, and, making like her a noble use of
the King’s love and her influence, incite him to conquer himself, to
forsake all follies, and to devote his great talents in fighting heart
and soul against the rebels and the League!”

“Alas!” sighed Don Juan, “those were the early ages; such love as that
is not to be found now--it is a dream, a fantasy. Henry will find no
Agnes Sorel in these later days.”

“Say not so, noble Don,” replied Gabrielle; “I for my part adore the
King--I long to know him.”

The Spaniard’s eyes flashed, and Bellegarde started visibly.

“Love,” continued Gabrielle, flushing with excitement, “love is of all
times and of all seasons. True love is immortal. But I allow that it is
rare, though not impossible, to excite such a passion.”

“If it is a science to be learnt, will you teach me, fair lady?” asked
the Spaniard tenderly.

At this turn in the conversation Bellegarde again became painfully
agitated, and the subject dropped. The Don now addressed his
conversation to the sisters of Gabrielle, and at their request took up
the lute and sang an improvised song with considerable taste, in a fine
manly voice, which gained for him loud applauses all around. The words
were these:

    “Charmante Gabrielle,
     Percé de mille dards,
     Quand la gloire m’appelle
     A la suite de Mars,
     Cruelle départie.
     Que ne suis-je sans vie
     Ou sans amour?”

Gabrielle looked, perhaps, a trifle too much pleased at the somewhat
free admiration expressed in these verses, and spite of Bellegarde,
approached the Don to thank him after he had finished.

“Lady, did my song please you?” said he softly, trying to kiss her hand.
“If it had any merit you inspired me.”

“Yes,” replied she musingly. “You wished just now you were my prisoner.
Had you been, I should long ago have freed you if you had sung to me
like that, I am sure.”

“And why?” asked he.

“Because you have something in your voice I should have feared to hear
too often,” said she in a low voice, lest Bellegarde should hear her.

“Then in that case I would always have remained your voluntary captive,
_ma belle_.”

How long this conversation might have continued authorities do not
state; but Bellegarde, now really displeased, approached the whispering
pair, giving an indignant glance at Gabrielle and a look full of
reproach at the Don.

“Come, come, Don Juan!” said he. “It is time to go. Where are our
horses? The day wears on, we shall scarce reach the camp ere sundown.”

“_Ventre Saint Gris!_” said the Spaniard, starting, “there is surely no
need for such haste.”

“Your promise,” muttered Bellegarde in his ear.

“Confound you, Bellegarde! You have introduced me into paradise, and now
you drag me away just when the breath of heaven is warming me.” Don Juan
looked broken-hearted at being obliged to leave, and cast the most
loving glances towards Gabrielle and her handsome sisters.

“I opine we ought never to have come at all,” said Chicot, winking
violently and looking at Gabrielle, who with downcast eyes evidently
regretted the necessity of the Don’s departure.

“_Mère de Dieu!_” muttered the latter to Bellegarde, “you are too hard
thus to bind me to my cursed promise.”

“Gabrielle,” said Bellegarde, drawing her aside, and speaking in a low
voice, “one kiss ere I go. You are my beloved--my other self, the soul
of my soul. Adieu! This has been a miserable meeting. You have grieved
me, love; but perhaps it is my own fault. I ought to have come alone.
That Spaniard is disgusting”--Gabrielle turned her head away--“But I
will soon return. In the meantime, a caution in your ear. If this same
Don Juan comes again during my absence to pay you a second visit, send
him off I charge you, by the love I know you bear me. Give him his
_congé_ without ceremony; hold no parley, I entreat you; he is a sad
good-for-nothing, and would come with no good intentions. I could tell
you more. He is----, but next time you shall hear all. Till then,
adieu!”

“I will obey you, Bellegarde,” replied Gabrielle somewhat coldly; “but
the Spaniard seems to me an honest gentleman, and looks born to
command.”

The whole party then proceeded to the courtyard, where the three horses
were waiting.

“Adieu, most adorable Gabrielle!” cried the Spaniard, vaulting first
into the saddle. “Would to heaven I had never set eyes on you, or that,
having seen you, I might gaze to eternity on that heavenly face.”

“Well,” said Bellegarde gaily, for his spirits rose as he saw the
Spaniard ready to depart, “you need only wait until peace be made, and
then I will present you at Court, Don Juan, where Madame la Duchesse de
Bellegarde, otherwise La Belle Gabrielle, will shine fairest of the
fair.”

“You are not married yet, Duke, however,” rejoined the Spaniard, looking
back, “and remember, you must first have his Majesty’s leave and
licence--not always to be got. Ha, ha, my friend, I have you there!”
laughed the Don. “Adieu, then, once more, most beautiful ladies, adieu
to you all! Bellegarde, _you have gained your bet_.”



CHAPTER XXIV.

CHARMANTE GABRIELLE.


After this meeting Don Juan soon contrived to return, and the lady,
forgetful of her lover’s advice, received him. This was sufficient
encouragement for so audacious a cavalier, and an intimacy sprang up
between them ending in a confession of his being the King. Gabrielle was
charmed, for she had always been his devoted partisan. What at first
appeared bold and free in his manner she now ascribed to a proper sense
of his own rank, born as he was to command and to be obeyed. Their
romantic introduction and the disguise he had condescended to assume on
that occasion captivated her imagination almost as much as his unbounded
admiration of her person flattered her vanity. Henry, too, was a fit
subject for devoted loyalty at that time, closely beset as he was by the
troops of the League, unable to enter Paris, and only maintaining his
ground by prodigies of valour and the most heroic perseverance.

Should she, then, be unkind, and repulse him, when he vowed to her, on
his knees, that his only happy moments were spent in her society? The
image of Bellegarde grew fainter and fainter; their meetings became
colder and more unsatisfactory. He reproached her for her unbecoming
encouragement of a libertine monarch; Gabrielle defended herself by
declaring that her heart was her own, and that she might bestow it where
she thought proper. As yet, however, there had been no formal rupture
between them. Bellegarde loved the fascinating girl too fondly to
renounce her lightly; and she herself, as yet undecided, hesitated
before resigning a man whose attachment was honourable and legitimate,
and whose birth and position were brilliant, to receive the dubious
addresses of a married monarch. True, the shameful excesses of
Marguerite de Valois, his Queen, excused and almost exonerated the King;
Henry urged this circumstance with passionate eloquence, promising
Gabrielle, spite of state reasons, to marry her as soon as, settled on
the throne, he had leisure legally to prove the scandalous conduct of
his wife and to obtain a papal divorce. This, to a vain and beautiful
woman like Gabrielle, was a telling argument.

Still, Gabrielle had not broken with Bellegarde; she delighted to
irritate the passion of the King by yet professing some love for her old
admirer. At times she refused to see Henry at all, and actually went on
a visit to her aunt, Madame de Sourdis, without even bidding him adieu.
This coquetry made the King desperate. He was so overcome at her sudden
departure, that he was ready, according to his habit, to promise
anything she asked. The difficulty was how to reach her, for he must
start from Mantes, at the gravest risk, passing through two outposts and
seven leagues of open country occupied by the League. But now he was
wrought up to such a pass that he was ready to sacrifice his Crown or
his head to win her. As soon, therefore, as he ascertained that
Gabrielle had returned to Cœuvres he swore a solemn oath to see her
or die. The country was covered with troops; alone he dared not
venture; with attendants he compromised his beloved. Such obstacles were
maddening. At last he decided to set forth on horseback, accompanied
only by a few devoted followers. With this escort he rode four leagues
through the most dangerous part of the route, then left them at a
certain spot to await his return. Towards Cœuvres he wandered on
alone until he found a roadside house. There he offered a peasant some
gold pieces to lend him a suit of clothes, in order, as he told the man,
the more safely to deliver some letters of importance to the Seigneur of
Cœuvres. The peasant readily consented to his proposal. In those
boisterous days of internecine warfare nothing of this kind caused
astonishment, spies, in every species of disguise, continually passing
to and fro between the two armies. So Henry IV., in the garb of a
peasant, pushed on alone.

The day was fast falling, deep shadows gathered in the forest and around
the castle. Gabrielle sat within in the twilight embroidering a scarf.
She was thinking over all the difficulties of her position, divided as
she was between regard for the generous Bellegarde and her passion each
day growing stronger for the King. Suddenly her maid Louise came into
the room and begged her, as she had passed all day in the house, to take
a little fresh air.

“Come, madame, while there is yet a little light; come, at least, to the
balcony that looks out over the terrace, where the breeze is so
pleasant, and see the sun set over the tree-tops.”

“No, no,” replied Gabrielle, shaking her head sadly. “Leave me alone. I
have enough to think

[Illustration: THE CASCADE OF ST. CLOUD.

From an engraving by Rigaud.]

about, and I want to finish my scarf, or it will not be done by the time
I promised Bellegarde. Besides I do not fancy open balconies in the
month of November; it is too cold.”

“Oh! but,” pleaded Louise, “the day has been so splendid--like summer in
the forest. Pray come, madame.”

“Why do you plague me so? I never remember your great desire for open
air before.” And Gabrielle rose. She was no sooner on the balcony,
watching the last streaks of golden light glittering among the branches
and lighting up the plain beyond in a ruddy mist, than all at once she
heard a rustling noise, and on looking down saw, just under the balcony,
on the grass-plot, a peasant on a horse, laden with a bundle of straw.

The peasant stopped and gazed at her for some time, then, throwing away
the straw, he flung himself from his horse and fell on his knees before
her, clasping his hands, as if about to worship at some shrine.

Juliette, Gabrielle’s sister, now joined her on the balcony.
Readier-witted than she, Juliette whispered--

“Gabrielle, it is the King--he is disguised!”

Louise burst into a loud laugh at their surprise and ran away. It was
now apparent why she was so anxious to make Gabrielle go on the balcony
to see the sun set. Gabrielle had not dreamt of seeing the King, who was
reported to be encamped at some distance. Her first feeling was one of
anger for his utter want of dignity. To kneel on the wet grass, and in
the dress of a peasant! Besides, this disguise was most unbecoming to
him. He looked positively hideous.

Juliette retired, and Gabrielle was left standing alone on the balcony
before the King. As yet she had not spoken.

“What! not a word to greet me?” cried Henry, rising. “Why, _vrai Dieu_,
many a lady of our Court would have flung herself down headlong to
welcome me, and never cared if she broke her neck! Come, _belle des
belles_, look down graciously upon your devoted slave, whose only desire
is to die at your feet.”

“Sire,” replied Gabrielle, “for heaven’s sake go away. Return to Mantes,
and never let me see you again so vilely dressed. Always wear your white
panache and your scarlet mantle when you come. Without it you are not
Henre Quatre. Better stay away altogether, for you know well your
enemies are prowling about in this neighbourhood. Besides, who can tell?
Bellegarde may come. Pray, I entreat you, go away directly.”

“_Ma foi!_” replied the King, “let them come, Leaguers or Spaniards,
Bellegarde or the devil, what care I, if La Belle Gabrielle looks kindly
on me? Come down to me, Gabrielle.”

“Kind I will certainly not be if your Majesty do not at once depart.
Kneeling in that manner is too ridiculous. I will not come down. I shall
go away. I am no saint to be prayed to, heaven knows. If your Majesty
won’t remount, I shall really go away.”

“You could not have the heart, Gabrielle,” replied Henry, “when I have
run such risks to see you for a moment.”

His horse stood by cropping the grass. The King leaving the bundle of
straw on the ground, sprang into the saddle without even touching the
stirrup, and again addressed her. She was terrified at the idea of being
surprised by any one, especially Bellegarde, who would have been so
incensed, that he might have forgotten himself towards his Majesty.

For a moment Gabrielle was overcome. Tears came into her eyes out of
sheer vexation and fear of consequences, both to him, who might fall
into an ambuscade, and to herself. As she lifted up her hands to wipe
the tears away, the scarf she had been embroidering, and which she still
held, slipped out of her hand, and borne by the wind, after fluttering
for a few moments, dropped on the King, who, catching it, exclaimed--

“_Ventre Saint Gris!_ what have we here?”

“Oh, Sire!” cried Gabrielle, “it is my work--a scarf; it is all but
finished, and now I have dropped it.”

“By all the rules of war, fair lady,” said Henry, “what falls from the
walls of a besieged city belongs to the soldier; so, by your leave, dear
Gabrielle, the scarf is mine; I will wear it.”

“Oh!” replied she, leaning over the balcony, “do give it me back; it is
for Monsieur de Bellegarde, and he knows it. Should he see your Majesty
with it, what will he think? He would never believe but that I gave it
to you.”

“By the mass! it is too good for him; I will keep it without any
remorse, and cover with a thousand kisses these stitches woven by your
delicate fingers.”

“But, indeed, Sire, it is promised--Monsieur de Bellegarde will ask me
for it; what am I to say?”

“Bellegarde shall never have it, I promise you. Tell him that, like
Penelope, you undid in the night what you worked in the day. Come, come,
now, Gabrielle, confess you are not in reality so much attached to
Bellegarde as you pretend, and that if I can prove to you he is unworthy
of your love and inconstant into the bargain, you will promise to give
me his place in your heart. Besides, his position is unworthy of your
beauty; there is but one ornament worthy of that snowy brow--Bellegarde
cannot place it there; but I know another able and willing, when the
cursed League is dispersed, to give that finishing touch to your
loveliness.”

“Sire,” replied she, “I must not listen to what you say. I cannot
believe anything against Bellegarde; I have known him all my life, and
he has never deceived me. Nothing but the most positive evidence shall
convince me that he is false.”

“How now? _Saints et Saintes!_ you doubt my word--the word of a king!
But, Gabrielle, I can give you proofs, be assured.”

“Oh, Sire, it is not for me to talk of proofs or to reproach him. Poor
Bellegarde! my heart bleeds when I think of him.” Her head fell upon her
bosom; again the tears gathered in her eyes. Then she looked up, and
becoming aware all at once that it had grown quite dusk, she forgot
every other feeling in fear for the King’s safety. “Sire, go away, I
implore you, return to your quarters as fast as your horse can carry
you. If I have been cold, remember what you are risking--your life and
my good name! for you will be seen by some one.”

“Gabrielle, do you drive me away thus, when to leave you costs me such
a pang! Heaven knows when this war will allow us again to meet! I never
know from day to day but that some rebel of a Leaguer may finish me by a
stray shot; much less do I know where or how I may be. The present is
all I have--let me enjoy it.”

“Ah, Sire! only put down that atrocious League, and we will meet when
you please. I shall offer up no end of prayers that it may be so.”

“Whatever comes out of those ruby lips will not fail of being heard; as
to your slave Henry, the very knowledge that such a divinity stoops to
interest herself in his fate will serve as a talisman to shield him from
every danger.”

“Your Majesty speaks like a poet,” and a soft laugh was heard out of the
darkness. “Now adieu, Sire! I wish you a safe journey wherever you go,
and may you prevail against your foes. When you see Monsieur de
Bellegarde, assure him of my love.”

“Ungrateful Gabrielle! thus to trifle with me. But I have proofs, _vrai
Dieu_! I have proofs that shall cure you of that attachment.”

“Sire, why should you seek to make me unhappy? You know that for years I
have been engaged to Bellegarde, and that I look forward to my marriage
with the utmost delight. Why, then, endeavour to separate us?”

“_Par exemple, ma belle,_ you give me credit for being vastly
magnanimous, upon my word! What then, Gabrielle, would you have me
resign you without a struggle?--nay, am I expected to bring about your
marriage with a rival? That is a little too much, forsooth!”

“Nenni, Sire; I only ask you not to prevent it. Such artifice would be
unworthy so generous a monarch to a faithful servant like poor
Bellegarde, to whom I am--” and she could not help again laughing, so
dismal was the look of the King--“to whom I am bound in all honour. Then
there is your Majesty’s wife, the Queen of Navarre--for, Sire, you seem
to forget that you have a wife.”

“Yes, as I have a Crown, which I am never to wear. That infernal
Marguerite is keeping her state with a vengeance, and forgetting, _par
Dieu, she has a husband_. The people of Usson, in Auvergne, call shame
on her; they know what she is better than I do.”

“Sire, I beg of you to speak at least with respect of Madame Marguerite
de France.”

“Why should I not be frank with you, _ma belle_, at least? _Ah, Margot,
la reine Margot, à la bonne heure!_ I only wish she were in her coffin
at Saint-Denis along with her brothers. I shall be quit of a wife
altogether until I enter Paris, and then we shall see--we shall see who
will be crowned with me. But, _mignonne_, I must indeed bid you adieu.
_Morbleu!_ my people will think I am lost, and besiege the château.
Adieu until I can next come. I will write to you in the meantime.
Remember to forget Bellegarde, as you value the favour of your
Sovereign.”

And kissing the scarf he had stolen from her, the King put spurs to his
horse and galloped away into the darkness.

Gabrielle d’Estrées followed his pernicious counsel but too readily, as
the sequel will show. Unable to resist the continued blandishments of
the King, and silencing her conscience by a belief in his promise of
marriage, she sacrificed her lover, the Duc de Bellegarde, sincerely and
honourably attached to her for many years and whom she had once really
loved, for the sake of the gallant but licentious Henry. She followed
the King to Mantes, in company with her father, whom the King made
General of Artillery and loaded with honours. After this Henry would not
hear of her returning to the Château of Cœuvres, a place, he said,
too remote and difficult of access. He finally prevailed on her to
accompany him to the camp at Saint-Germain.

The Duc de Bellegarde was banished.

In the autumn she was still at Saint-Germain, where the King, in his
brief intervals of leisure, showed more and more delight in her society.

One day he entered Gabrielle’s apartment, and dismissing his attendants
sank into a chair without saying a word. He heaved a deep sigh.
Gabrielle looked up at him, wondering at his silence--she perceived that
he was weeping. Surprised at his emotion, she asked him, with an
offended air, if the sight of her had caused those tears, for if such
were the case she would go back to the Castle of Cœuvres, if it so
pleased his Majesty.

“_Mignonne_,” replied Henry very gravely, taking her hand and kissing
it, “it is indeed you who are partly the cause of my grief, but not
because you are here. Seeing you makes me envy the happiness of the
poorest peasant in my dominions, living on bread and garlic, who has the
woman he loves beside him, and is his own master. I am no king, I am
nothing but a miserable slave, jostled between Calvinists and
Catholics, who both distrust me.”

“Come, come, Sire, dismiss these fancies, at least while you are with
me,” answered she.

“On the contrary, Gabrielle, it is the sight of you that recalls them.
You have escaped from the control of a father to live with me, while my
chains press about me tighter than ever. I cannot, I dare not break
them,--and be wholly yours. You gain and I lose--that is all.”

“Sire,” said she, sadly, “I am not sure of that. Women, I believe, are
best in the chains you speak of. I shall see. If I have gained, you will
keep your promise to me. I am not so certain of it; all I know is,
whatever has been or is to be, that I love you,” and she turned her
languishing blue eyes full upon him.

“Gabrielle, I swear I will keep my promise. Does not every act of my
life prove my devotion?”

“Well then, Sire, succeed in putting down that odious League, march on
to Paris, and I shall be happy. To see you crowned and anointed at
Rheims I would give my life!”

“Never fear, sweet; this will come about shortly. I am certain. There,
are, however, more difficulties than you are aware of. If I become a
Catholic, as all my nobles wish me to do--and beautiful France is well
worth a mass--then the Calvinists will at once reorganise this cursed
League; and, if I persist in my faith, which my poor mother reared me up
to love sincerely--why then I shall be forsaken by all the Catholics; a
fact they take care to remind me of every day of my life. _Vrai Dieu!_ I
only wish I were once again Prince of Navarre, free and joyous,
fighting and hunting, dancing and jousting, without an acre of land, as
I was formerly.”

“Sire, all will be well; be more sanguine, I entreat you. If my poor
words have any power over you,” she added, encouragingly, “dismiss such
gloomy thoughts. Believe me, the future has much in store for you and
for me.”

“Ah! dear Gabrielle, when I am far away over mountains and valleys,
separated from those lovely eyes that now beam so brightly on me, I feel
all the torments of jealousy. Away from you, happiness is impossible.”

“Well, Sire, if it is only my presence you want, I will follow you to
the end of the world--I will go anywhere;” Gabrielle spoke with
impassioned ardour.

“_Ma mie!_ it is this love alone that enables me to bear all the
anxieties and troubles that surround me on every side. I value it more
than the Crown of France; but this very love of yours, entire as I
believe it to be, is the one principal cause of my misery.”

“How can that be?” answered she caressingly; “I love you--I will ever be
constant, I swear it solemnly, Henry.”

“Yes,” replied he thoughtfully, “but I have promised you marriage--you
must sit beside me as Queen of France. Do you forget that I have the
honour of being the husband of a queen--the sister of three defunct
monarchs--the most abandoned, the most disgraceful, the most odious----”

“Sire, you need not think about her; you are not obliged to be a
witness of her disorders. Let her enjoy all her gallantries at the
Castle of Usson. You can easily divorce her when you please----and then
nothing can part us.”

“_Ventre Saint Gris!_ cursed be the demon who dishonours me by calling
herself my wife! that wretch who prevents my marrying the angel whom I
love so entirely--your own sweet self!”

“Henry, my heart at least is yours.”

“Yes, dearest; but not more mine than I am yours eternally--and I would
recompense your love as it deserves. But know, Gabrielle, that
Marguerite de Valois absolutely refuses to consent to a divorce that I
may marry you. She declares she acts in my interests; but I believe her
odious pride is offended at being succeeded by a gentlewoman of honest
and ancient lineage, a thousand times better than all the Valois that
ever lived, a race born of the Devil, I verily believe. I have
threatened her with a state trial; the proofs against her are flagrant.
She knows that she would in that case be either beheaded or imprisoned
for life. Not even that shakes her resolve, so inveterate is she against
our union.”

“Alas! poor lady--did she ever love you?”

“Not a whit; she was false from the beginning. Let us speak of her no
more,” said the King, rising and walking up and down the room. Then
stopping opposite Gabrielle, who, dismayed at what she heard, sat with
her face buried in her hands, he asked her, “How about Bellegarde?”

Gabrielle shrank back, then looked up at him.

“Are you sure he is entirely banished from your remembrance?”

“As much as if I had never known him,” replied she promptly.

“I depend upon your pledge of meeting him no more, because, good-natured
as I am--and I am good natured, _Par Dieu!_--I am somewhat choleric and
hot (God pardon me), and if by chance I ever surprised you together,
why, _vrai Dieu_, if I had my sword I might be sorry for the
consequences.”

“Sire, there is no danger; you may wear your sword for me. If such a
thing ever occurred, it is I who would deserve to die.”

“Well, _ma mie_, I must draw the trenches nearer the walls of Paris. In
my absence remain at Mantes,” said Henry. “Then I must advance upon
Rouen. I expect a vigorous resistance, and God only knows how it will
end. I leave all in your care, and invest you, fair Gabrielle, with the
same power as if you were really queen. Would to heaven you
were--confound that devil of a Margot! I will return to you as often as
I can, and write constantly. Now I must say that sad word, adieu. Adieu!
adieu! _ma mie_.”

Gabrielle consoled the King as best she could, and after much ado he
took his departure, always repeating, “_adieu, ma mie_.”

After he had passed down the great gallery, Gabrielle rushed to one of
the windows overlooking the entrance, to catch the last sight of him.
She saw him vault on horseback, and ride down the hill with a brilliant
retinue; that excellent creature, Chicot the jester, as faithful as
Achates, but whom he had the misfortune soon after to lose, close at his
side.



CHAPTER XXV.

ITALIAN ART.


Years have passed. The wars of the League are over, and Henry is
undisputed master of France. He has proved himself a hero in a hundred
battles, but has acquired nothing heroic in his appearance. Still in the
prime of life, he has the keenest sense of enjoyment, the warmest heart,
the old love of danger and contempt of consequences. His time is divided
between hunting in the forest of Fontainebleau and the society of
Gabrielle d’Estrées, and her little son Cæsar, created Duc de Vendôme.

Gabrielle has nominally been married to the Sieur de Liancourt, in
accordance with court etiquette, which did not permit a single lady
permanently to form part of a Court without a Queen. Henry has been
severely commented on for this marriage mockery, for husband and wife
parted at the church door. Gabrielle, who has been created Duchesse de
Beaufort, is exceedingly unpopular. The divorce from “la reine Margot”
is still incomplete, that obstinate princess objecting to conclude the
needful formalities on the ground that Gabrielle is not of royal blood.
Conquered by her prayers, her sweetness, and her devotion, Henry is
still resolved to marry his lovely duchess. In vain he urges, threatens,
and storms; the tyrant Queen will not consent. By Gabrielle’s advice he
has become a Catholic. “Ma Gabrielle,” he writes from Paris, “I have
yielded to your entreaties. I have spoken to the bishops; on Sunday I
make the _perilous leap_. I kiss my angel’s hand.”

A strong political party opposed the marriage. Sully was dead against
it. Gabrielle, it was argued, however fascinating and correct in
conduct, was no match for Henry the Great. Besides, as being already the
mother of two children by the King, a disputed succession would be
certain. The Court of Rome had plans of its own, too, about the King’s
marriage, and already the name of Marie de’ Medici had been mentioned as
a fitting consort. The Pontiff himself favoured the match, and he alone
could solve every difficulty with regard to the divorce. Sully looked
askance at the excessive influence Gabrielle exercised over his master.
The Florentine marriage was approved by him, and the negotiations had
already begun. Marie de’ Medici fulfilled every requirement. She was
young, beautiful, rich, and allied to the throne of France by her
relative, Catherine de’ Medici. As long as Gabrielle lived there was no
chance of inducing the King to consider seriously any other alliance.
Must she die? Poor Gabrielle! there were not wanting foreign noblemen
like Maréchal d’Ornano, besides a host of low Italian usurers and Jews
brought to France by Catherine de’ Medici--mere mushrooms who had
acquired enormous wealth by pillaging the Court--who lent the King money
and pandered to his desires, ready and willing to forward his marriage
with a richly dowered princess, their countrywoman, even by a crime.

Gabrielle is at Fontainebleau. She expects the King, who is in Paris. An
extraordinary depression, a foreboding of evil, overwhelms her. She
knows but too well of the powerful party arrayed against her,--that
Sully is her enemy, that the Pope is inflexible about granting the
divorce, even if Marguerite de Valois should consent, which she will not
whilst Gabrielle lives; she knows that all France is reluctant to
receive her as its queen. But there is the King’s promise of marriage,
repeated again and again with oaths of passionate fondness. Will he keep
that promise of marriage? That is the question. She knows he loves her;
but love is but an episode in the chequered life of a soldier-king. How
many others has he not loved? How many promises of marriage has he not
broken? True, she is always treated as his wife. She lodges in the
apartments assigned to the Queen of France in the “Oval Court.” She is
seated beside him on occasions of state; every favour she asks is
granted, all who recommend themselves to her intercession are pardoned.
The greatest ladies of the Court--the Duchesse de Guise and her witty
daughter, the Duchesse de Retz, even the austere Duchesse de Sully--are
proud to attend upon her. Bellegarde, the faithful Bellegarde, restored
to favour, now her devoted servant, watches over her interests with
ceaseless anxiety. Yet her very soul is heavy within her; her position
is intolerable. After all, what is she but the mistress of the King? She
shudders at the thought.

The season is spring. The trees are green; their tender foliage but
lightly shades the formal walks ranged round a fountain in a little
garden (still remaining) that Henry has made for her under the palace
walls. The fountain, in the centre of a parterre of grass and flowers,
catches the rays of the April sun, glitters for an instant in a flood of
rainbow tints, then falls back in showers of spray into a marble basin
supported by statues.

Gabrielle is dressed in a white robe; the long folds trail upon the
ground. Her auburn hair, drawn off her face, is gathered into a coronet
of gold; rich lace covers her bosom, and a high ruff rises from her
shoulders; on her neck is a string of pearls, to which is attached a
miniature of the King. With the years that have passed the bloom of
youth is gone; the joyous expression of early days has died out of those
soft pleading eyes. Lovely she is still; her complexion is delicately
fair, and the pensive look in her face is touching to the last degree.
Graceful and gracious as ever, there is a sedate dignity, a tempered
reserve, in her address, befitting the royal station which awaits her.

She stops, sighs, then listens for the sound of horses’ feet. There is
not a breath stirring, save the hum of insects about the fountain and
the murmur of the breeze among the trees. She takes from her bosom a
letter. It is in the King’s handwriting and shows manifest signs of
having been often handled. She kisses the signature, and reads these
words:--

     “You conjured me to take with me as much love for you as I know I
     leave with you for me. Now in two hours after you receive this you
     shall behold a knight who adores you. People call him King of
     France and of Navarre, but he calls himself your subject and your
     slave. No woman can compare to you in judgment or in beauty. I
     cherish and honour you beyond all earthly things.”

A dreamy smile comes over her face. Again she raises her head to listen,
and again hears nothing. Wearily she paces round and round the fountain,
holding the letter still in her hands. Then she enters the palace by an
arcaded corridor, and mounting a flight of steps, seats herself in the
vestibule to await the King’s arrival. At length he enters the court
named “The White Horse.” Gabrielle is on the terrace to receive him.

“You are late, Sire.”

“Yes, sweetheart. I thought I should never get here. The Seine was
swollen and we had a saucy ferryman. Come hither, Gabrielle, and I will
tell you what he said, while he pulled us across the river. He was a
funny rogue.”

“Did he not know you then, Sire?”

“No. How should he in this grey doublet and with only a single
gentleman? He asked me if we were gallants for the Court. I said yes, we
were bound to Fontainebleau to hunt with the King. ‘People say we have a
hero for a King,’ he said; ‘but, _morbleu!_ this hero taxes everything.
Even the very boat your excellency sits in is taxed. We will pay for him
nevertheless; he is an honest King. But it is his mistress, folks say,
who wants the money to pay for her fine gauds and dresses. She is but a
plain gentlewoman born, after all. If she were a princess now, why then
I’d forgive her.’ So you see, Gabrielle, when you are a queen, the
people will love you and pay the taxes willingly.” And

[Illustration: GENERAL VIEW OF FONTAINEBLEAU.

FROM AN OLD PRINT.]

Henry laughs and looks at Gabrielle, who has changed colour; but the
King does not observe it and continues his story. “ ‘Sirrah,’ I said to
him, ‘you malign a charming lady.’ ‘Devil take her!’ replied the
churlish ferrymen; ‘I wish she were in heaven.’ So I rode away without
paying my toll. The fellow bellowed after me, and ran, but could not
catch me. We will call this _drôle_ hither, and divert ourselves with
him.”

As Henry proceeds with his story, Gabrielle’s look of pain has deepened.

“I pray your Majesty to do nothing of the kind,” she answers sharply; “I
do not love coarse jokes.” Henry looks at her with surprise.

“I am wretched enough already, heaven knows, without being mocked by the
ribaldry of a low bargeman, who, after all, has reason for what he says.
Why did you tell me this story, Henry?” she adds in a plaintive tone,
bursting into tears. “Am I not degraded enough already?”

“How, Gabrielle, this from you? when, spite of every obstacle, within a
few weeks you will be crowned my queen?”

A knock is now heard at the door, and Sully enters. He looks hot and
surly. He barely salutes the King, and scowls at Gabrielle, who
instantly retreats to the farther corner of the room. Sully wears a
threadbare doublet, his grey hair is uncombed over his forehead, and he
carries some papers in his hand.

“Sire,” he says, addressing the King abruptly and unfolding these
papers, “if you pass this document, you had better declare yourself at
once the husband of her grace there, the Duchesse de Beaufort.” Sully
points at Gabrielle, who cowers in the corner.

Poor Gabrielle is thunderstruck, and trembles at the certainty of a
violent scene. She had often had to bear at different times roughness,
and even rudeness, from Sully, but such language as this she had never
heard. What does it mean?

The King takes the papers in his hand.

“What are these, Sully?” he says, looking grave. “Bills for the
entertainment given by the Duchesse de Beaufort for the baptism of my
second son, Alexandria, son of France, eight thousand francs!
Impossible! Baptismal fees for a son of France? There is no son of
France. I wish to God there were! What does all this mean, Sully?”

“It means, Sire, that if you sign that paper, I shall leave the Court.”

“Come, come, my good Rosny, you forget that the Duchess is present”; and
he glances at Gabrielle, who lay back on the arm-chair, weeping
bitterly.

“No, Sire; I mean what I say. My advice is disregarded; I am superseded
by a council of women”; and he turns fiercely towards the Duchesse. “The
nation groans under heavy taxes. Complaints reach me from every quarter.
What am I to do, if the revenues are squandered like this?”

Gabrielle’s sobs had now become audible. Henry, still holding the paper,
looks greatly perplexed.

“The amount is certainly enormous. Some enemy of her grace must have
done this. Tell me, Gabrielle, you cannot have sanctioned it? There are
no ‘sons of France.’ Say to me, Gabrielle, that you were ignorant of all
this.”

Gabrielle neither speaks nor moves, save that she shakes with sobs.
Sully gazes at her with a cynical air as of a man who would not be
deceived.

“You see, Rosny,” whispers the King into his ear, “that she does not
govern me, much as I love her. You do me wrong to say so.” Sully
shrugged his shoulders. “No, she shall not control you, who only live
for my service. I must make her feel that I am displeased. Speak,
Gabrielle,” he continues aloud, in a voice which he endeavours to make
severe, “speak.” Receiving no answer he turns away with affected
unconcern. Yet in spite of his words, he glances over his shoulder to
watch her. Had Sully not been present, he would have flown to her on the
spot and yielded. This Sully well knew; so he did not stir.

There is an awkward pause. Horrible suspicions rush into Gabrielle’s
mind. That strange story of the ferryman and the taxes; Sully’s
audacious language; the King’s coldness: it could only mean one thing,
and as this conviction comes over her, her heart dies within her.

“Sire,” she answers at last, suppressing her sobs as she best could and
approaching where Henry stood, affecting not to notice her, “I see that
you have permitted the Duc de Sully to come here in order to insult me.
You want to abandon me, Sire. Say so frankly; it is more worthy of you.
But remember that I am not here by my own wish, save for the love I bear
you.” As she utters these words her voice nearly failed her; but by a
strong effort she continues, “No one can feel more forlorn than I do.
Your Majesty has promised me marriage against the advice of your
ministers. This scene is arranged between you to justify you in breaking
your sacred word, else you could never allow the lady whom you design
for so high an honour to be thus treated in your very presence.”

Henry, placed between Sully and Gabrielle, is both angry and
embarrassed. Her bitter words have stung him to the quick. He knows that
she has no cause to doubt his loyalty.

“_Pardieu_, madame, you have made me a fine speech. You talk all this
nonsense to make me dismiss Rosny. If I must choose between you, let me
tell you, Duchesse, I can part with you better than with him.” Gabrielle
turns very pale, and clings to a chair for support. “Come, Rosny, we
will have a ride in the forest, and leave the Duchesse to recover her
usually sweet temper”; and without one look at her, Henry strode towards
the door.

These bitter words are more than his gentle mistress can bear. With a
wild scream she rushes forward, and falls flat upon the floor at the
King’s feet. Henry, greatly moved, gathers her up tenderly in his arms.
Even the stern Sully relents. He looks at her sorrowfully, shakes his
head, collects his papers, and departs.

The Holy-week is at hand. Gabrielle, who is to be crowned within a
month, is to communicate and keep her Easter publicly at Paris, while
the King remains at Fontainebleau. An unaccountable terror of Paris and
a longing desire not to leave the King overwhelm her. Again and again
she alters the hour of her departure. She takes Henry’s hand and wanders
with him to the Orangery, to the lake where the carp are fed, to the
fountain garden, and to the Salle de Diane, which he is building. She
cannot tear herself from him. She speaks much to him of their children,
and commends them again and again to his love. She adjures him not to
forget her during her absence.

“Why! _ma belle des belles!_” exclaims the King, “one would think you
were going round the world; remember, in ten days I shall join you in
Paris, and then my Gabrielle shall return to Fontainebleau as Queen of
France. I have ordered that _bon diable_ Zametti, to receive you at
Paris as though you were already crowned.”

Now Zametti was an Italian Jew from Genoa, who had originally come to
France in the household of Catherine de’ Medici, as her shoemaker. He
had served her and all her sons in that capacity, until Henry III.,
amused by his jests, and perceiving him to be a man of no mean talents,
gave him a place in the Customs. Zametti’s fortune was made, and he
became henceforth usurer and money-lender in chief to the reigning
monarch.

“I love not Zametti,” replies Gabrielle, shuddering. “I wish I were
going to my aunt, Madame de Sourdis, she always gives me good advice.
Cannot your Majesty arrange that it should be so still?”

“It is too late, sweetheart. I do not like Madame de Sourdis; she is not
a fitting companion for my Gabrielle. Zametti has, by my orders, already
prepared his house for your reception, and certain _parures_ for your
approval; besides, what objection can you have to Zametti, the most
courteous and amusing of men?”

“Alas! Henry, I cannot tell; but I dread him. I would I were back again.
I feel as though I were entering a tomb. I am haunted by the most dismal
fancies.”

She drives through the forest accompanied by the King, who rides beside
her litter, attended by the Ducs de Retz, Roquelaure, Montbazon, and the
Maréchal d’Ornano, to Mélun, where a royal barge awaits her, attended by
a flotilla of boats decorated with flags and streamers in the Venetian
style. Here they take a tender farewell; again and again Gabrielle
throws herself upon the King’s neck and whispers through her tears that
they will never meet again. Henry laughs, but, seeing her agitation,
would have accompanied her and have braved the religious prejudices of
the Parisians, had it not been for the entreaties of D’Ornano. Almost by
force is he restrained. Gabrielle embarks; he stands watching her as the
barge is towed rapidly through the stream; one more longing, lingering
look she casts upon him, then disappears from his sight. Downcast and
sorrowful the King rides back to Fontainebleau.

All night long Gabrielle is towed up the river. She arrives at Paris in
the morning. Zametti, the Italian usurer and jeweller, with a numerous
suite of nobles and attendants, is waiting on the quay to receive her.
She is carried to Zametti’s house, or rather palace, for it was a
princely abode, near the Arsenal, in the new quarter of Paris then
called the Marais.

Here unusual luxuries await her, such as were common only in Italy and
among Italian princes: magnificent furniture, embroidered stuffs,
delicious perfumes, rich dishes. She rests through the day (the evening
having been passed in the company of the Duchesse de Guise and her
daughter), and the first night she sleeps well. Next day she rises early
and goes to church. Before she leaves the house, Zametti presents her
with a highly decorated filigree bottle, containing a strong perfume.

Before the service is over she faints. She is carried back and placed,
by her own desire, in Zametti’s garden, under a tuft of trees. She calls
for refreshments. Again in the garden she sinks back insensible. This
time it is very difficult to revive her. When she recovers, she is
undressed and orders a litter to be instantly prepared to bear her to
her aunt’s house, which is situated near Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois,
close to the Louvre.

In the meantime her head aches violently, but she is carried to her
aunt’s, where she is put to bed. Here she lies with her sweet eyes wide
open and turned upward, her beautiful face livid, and her mouth
distorted. In her anguish she calls incessantly for the King. He cannot
come, for it is Holy-week, which he must pass out of her company. She
tries to write to him, to tell him of her condition. The pen drops from
her hand. A letter from him is given her; she cannot read it.
Convulsions come on, and she expires insensible.

That she died poisoned is certain. Poisoned either by the subtle perfume
in the filigree bottle, or by some highly flavoured dish of Zametti’s
Italian _cuisine_.



CHAPTER XXVI.

BIRON’S TREASON.


The scene is again at Fontainebleau. Henry’s brow is knit. He is gloomy
and sad. With slow steps he quits the palace by the Golden Gate, passes
through the parterre garden under the shadow of the lime _berceau_ which
borders the long façade of the palace, and reaches a pavilion under a
grove of trees overlooking the park and the canal. This pavilion is the
house he has built for Sully. The statesman is seated writing in an
upper chamber overlooking the avenues leading to the forest.

The King enters unannounced; he throws his arms round Sully, then sinks
into a chair. Sully looks at him unmoved. He is accustomed to outbreaks
of passion and remorse caused by the King’s love affairs, and he
mentally ascribes his master’s present trouble to this cause. “Sully,”
says Henry, speaking at last, “I am betrayed, betrayed by my dearest
friend. _Ventre de ma vie!_ Maréchal Biron has conspired against me,
with Spain.”

“How, Sire?” cries Sully, bounding from his chair; “have you proofs?”

“Ay, Sully, only too complete; his agent and secretary Lafin has
confessed everything. Lafin is now at Fontainebleau. I have long doubted
the good faith of Biron, but I must now bring myself to hold him as a
traitor.”

“If your Majesty has sufficient proofs,” said Sully, re-seating himself,
“have him at once arrested. Allow him no time to communicate with your
enemies.”

“No, Sully, no; I cannot do that: I must give my old friend a chance. Of
his treason, there is, however, no question. He has intrigued for years
with the Duke of Savoy and with Spain, giving out as his excuse that the
Catholic faith is endangered by my heresy, and that I am a Calvinist. He
has entered into a treasonable alliance with Bouillon and D’Auvergne;
and worse, oh, far worse than all, during the campaign in Switzerland he
commanded the battery of St. Catherine’s Fort to be pointed against
me.--God knows how I was saved.”

“Monstrous!” cries Sully, casting up his hands. “And your Majesty
dallies with such a miscreant?”

“Yes, I can make excuses for him. He has been irritated against me by
the base insinuations of the Duke of Savoy. Biron is vain, hot-tempered,
and credulous. I know every detail. He shall come here to Fontainebleau:
I have summoned him. The sight of his old master will melt his heart. He
will confide in me; he will confess, and I shall pardon him.”

“I trust it may be as your Majesty wishes,” answers Sully; “but you are
playing a dangerous game, Sire. God help you safe out of it.”

Biron, ignorant of the treachery of Lafin, arrives at Fontainebleau. He
reckons on the King’s ignorance and their old friendship, and trusts to
a confident bearing and a bold denial of all charges. They meet--the
Maréchal and the King--in the great parterre, where, it being the month
of June, sweetly scented herbs and gay flowers fill the diamonded
beds--under the lime _berceau_ surrounding the garden. Biron, perfectly
composed, makes three low obeisances to the King, then kisses his hand.
Henry salutes him. His eyes are moist as he looks at him. “You have done
well to confide in me,” he says; “I am very glad to see you, Biron,” and
he passes his arm round the Maréchal’s neck, and draws him off to
describe to him the many architectural plans he has formed for the
embellishment of the château, and to show him the great “gallery of
Diana” which is in course of decoration. He hopes that Biron will
understand his feelings, and that kindness will tempt him to confess his
crime. Biron, however, is convinced that if he braves the matter out, he
will escape; he ascribes Henry’s clemency to an infatuated attachment to
himself. He wears an unruffled brow, is cautious and plausible though
somewhat silent, carefully avoids all topics which might lead to
discussion of any matters touching his conduct, and pointedly disregards
the hints thrown out from time to time by the King. Henry is miserable;
he feels he must arrest the Maréchal. Sully urges him to lose no time.
Still his generous heart longs to save his old friend and companion in
arms.

Towards evening the Court is assembled in the great saloon. The King is
playing a game of _primero_. Biron enters. He invites him to join; Biron
accepts, and takes up the cards with apparent unconcern. The King
watches him; is silent and absent, and makes many mistakes in the game.
The clock strikes eleven, Henry rises, and taking Biron by the arm,
leads him into a small retiring-room or cabinet at the bottom of the
throne-room, now forming part of that large apartment. The King closes
the door carefully. His countenance is darkened by excitement and
anxiety. His manner is so constrained and unnatural that Biron begins to
question himself as to his safety; still he sees no other resource but
to brave his treason out. “My old companion,” says the King, in an
unsteady voice, standing in the centre of the room, “you and I are
countrymen; we have known each other from boyhood. We were playfellows.
I was then the poor Prince de Béarn, and you, Biron, a cadet of Gontaut.
Our fortunes have changed since then. I am a great king, and you are a
Duke and Maréchal of France.” Biron bows; his confident bearing does not
fail him.

“Now, Biron,” and Henry’s good-natured face grows stern--“I have called
you here to say, that if you do not instantly confess the truth (and all
the truth, instantly, mind), you will repent it bitterly. I was in hopes
you would have done so voluntarily, but you have not.--Now I can wait no
longer.”

“Sire, I have not failed in my duty,” replies Biron haughtily; “I have
nothing to confess; you do me injustice.”

“Alas, my old friend, this denial does not avail you. I know
_all_!”--and Henry sighs and fixes his eyes steadfastly upon him. “I
conjure you to make a voluntary confession. Spare me the pain of your
public trial. I have kept the matter purposely secret. I will not
disgrace you, if possible.”

“Sire,” answers Biron, with a well-simulated air of offended dignity. “I
have already said I have nothing to confess. I can only beseech your
Majesty to confront me with my accusers.”

“That cannot be done without public disgrace--without danger to your
life, Maréchal. Come, Biron,” he adds, in a softer tone, and turning his
eyes upon him where he stands before him, dogged and obstinate; “come,
my old friend, believe me, every detail is known to me; your life is in
my hand.”

“Sire, you will never have any other answer from me. Where are my
accusers?”

“Avow all, Biron, fearlessly,” continues Henry, in the same tone, as if
not hearing him. “Open your heart to me;--I can make allowances for you,
perchance many allowances. You have been told lies, you have been sorely
tempted. Open your heart,--I will screen you.”

“Sire, my heart is true. Remember it was I who first proclaimed you
king, when you had not a dozen followers at Saint-Cloud,” Biron speaks
with firmness, but avoids the piercing glance of the King; “I shall be
happy to answer any questions, but I have nothing to confess.”

“_Ventre Saint Gris!_” cries Henry, reddening, “are you mad? Confess at
once--make haste about it. If you do not, I swear by the crown I wear to
convict you publicly as a felon and a traitor. But I would save you,
Maréchal,” adds Henry in an altered voice, laying his hand upon his arm,
“God knows I would save you, if you will let me. _Pardieu!_ I will
forgive you all!” he exclaims, in an outburst of generous feeling.

“Sire, I can only reply--confront me with my accusers. I am your
Majesty’s oldest friend. I have no desire but the service of your
Majesty.”

“Would to God it were so!” exclaims the King, turning upon Biron a look
of inexpressible compassion. Then moving towards the door he opens it,
and looks back at Biron, who still stands where he has left him, with
his arms crossed, in the centre of the room. “Adieu, _Baron_ de
Biron!”--and the King emphasises the word “Baron,” his original title
before he had received titles and honours--“adieu! I would have saved
you had you let me--your blood be on your own head.” The door
closed--Henry was gone.

Biron gave a deep sigh of relief, passed his hand over his brow, which
was moist with perspiration, and prepared to follow.

As he was passing the threshold, Vitry, the Captain of the Guard, seized
him by the shoulder, and wrenched his sword from its scabbard. “I arrest
you, Duc de Biron!”

Biron staggered, and looked up with astonishment. “This must be some
jest, Vitry!”

“No jest, monseigneur. In the King’s name, you are my prisoner.”

“As a peer of France, I claim my right to speak with his Majesty!” cried
Biron, loudly. “Lead me to the King!”

“No, Duke; the King is gone--his Majesty refuses to see you again.”

Once in the hands of justice, Biron vainly solicited the pardon which
Henry would gladly have granted. He was arraigned before the parliament,
convicted of treason, and beheaded at the Bastille _privately_, the
only favour he could obtain from the master he had betrayed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The pleasant days are now long past when Henry wandered, disguised as a
Spaniard or a peasant, together with Bellegarde and Chicot, in search of
adventures--when he braved the enemy to meet Gabrielle, and escaped the
ambuscades of the League by a miracle. He lives principally at the
Louvre, and is always surrounded by a brilliant Court. He has grown
clumsy and round-shouldered, and shows much of the Gascon swagger in his
gait. He is coarse-featured and red-faced; his hair is white; his nose
seems longer--in a word, he is uglier than ever. His manners are
rougher, and he is still more free of tongue. There is a senile leer in
his eyes, peering from under the tuft of feathers that rests on the brim
of his felt hat, as cane in hand, he passes from group to group of
deeply curtseying beauties in the galleries of the Louvre. He has
neither the chivalric bearing of Francis I., nor the refined elegance of
the Valois Princes. Beginning with his first wife, “la reine Margot,”
the most fascinating, witty, and depraved princess of her day, his
experience of the sex has been various. The only woman who really loved
him was poor Gabrielle, and to her alone he had been tolerably constant.
Her influence over him was gentle and humane, and, although she sought
to legalise their attachment by marriage, she was singularly free from
pride or personal ambition.

Now she is dead. He has wedded a new wife, Marie de’ Medici, whose ample
charms and imperious ways are little to his taste. “We have married
you,

[Illustration: MARIE DE MEDICIS

FROM A STEEL ENGRAVING]

Sire,” said Sully to him, entering his room one day, bearing the
marriage contract in his hand, “you have only to affix your signature.”
“Well, well,” Henry had replied, “so be it. If the good of France
demands it, I will marry.” Nevertheless, he had bitten his nails
furiously and stamped up and down the room for some hours, like a man
possessed. Ever reckless of consequences, he consoles himself by
plunging deeper than ever into a series of intrigues which compromise
his dignity and create endless difficulties and dangers.

What complicated matters was his readiness to promise marriage. He would
have had more wives than our Henry VIII. could he have made good all his
engagements. Gabrielle would have been his queen in a few weeks had not
the subtle poison of Zametti, the Italian usurer, cleared her from the
path of the Florentine bride. Even in the short interval between her
death and the landing of Marie de’ Medici at Marseilles, he had yielded
to the wiles of Henriette de Balsac d’Entragues, half-sister to the
Comte d’Auvergne, son of Charles IX., and had given her a formal promise
of marriage.

Henriette cared only for the sovereign, not for the man, who was old
enough to be her father. In the glory of youth and insolence of beauty,
stealthy, clever, and remorseless, a finished coquette and a reckless
_intrigante_, she allured him into signing a formal contract of
marriage, affianced though he was to a powerful princess proposed by the
reigning Pontiff, whose good-will it was important to the King, always a
cold Catholic, to secure.

The new favourite claimed to be of royal blood through her mother,
Marie Touchet, and, therefore, a fitting consort for the King. She
showed her “marriage lines” to every one--did not hesitate to assert
that she, not Marie de’ Medici, was the lawful wife; that the King would
shortly acknowledge her as such, and send the Queen back whence she
came, together with the hated Concini, her chamber-women and secretary,
along with all the jesters and mountebanks who had come with her from
Italy. Endless complications ensued with the new Queen. Quarrels,
recriminations, and reproaches ran so high that Marie on one occasion
struck the King in the face. Henry was disgusted with her ill-temper,
but was too generous either to coerce or to control her. Her Italian
confidants, Concini and his wife, however, made capital of these
dissensions to incense Marie violently against her husband, and at the
same time to gain influence over herself. Henry was watched,--no very
difficult undertaking, as he had assigned a magnificent suite of rooms
in the Louvre to his new mistress, between whose apartments and those of
the wife there was but a single corridor.

Henrietta meanwhile lived with all the pomp of a sovereign; there were
feasts at Zametti’s, balls, and jousts, and hunting-parties at
Saint-Germain and Fontainebleau. Foreign ambassadors and ministers
scoured the country after the King; so engaged was he in pleasure and
junketing.



CHAPTER XXVII.

A COURT MARRIAGE.


The great gallery of the Louvre is just completed. It is on the first
floor, and approached through a circular hall with a fine mosaic floor;
it has painted walls and a vaulted ceiling. The gallery is lighted by
twelve lofty windows looking towards the quays and the river, which
glitters without in the morning sun. Every inch of this sumptuous
apartment is painted and laden with gilding; the glittering ceiling
rests upon a cornice, where Henry’s initials are blended with those of
the dead Gabrielle. A crowd of lords-in-waiting and courtiers walk up
and down, loll upon settees, or gather in groups within the deep
embrasures of the windows, to discuss in low tones the many scandals of
the day, as they await his Majesty’s lover. Presently Maréchal
Bassompierre enters. Bassompierre, the friend and confidant of Henry, as
great a libertine as his master, who has left behind him a minute
chronicle of his life, is a tall, burly man; his face is bronzed by the
long campaigns against the League, and his bearing as he moves up and
down, his sword clanging upon the polished floor, has more of the
swagger of the camp than the refinement of the Court. He wears the
uniform of the Musketeers who guard the person of the King, and on his
broad breast is the ribbon of the Order of the “Saint-Esprit.” He is
joined by the Duc de Roquelaure. Now Roquelaure is an effeminate-looking
man, a gossip and a dandy, the retailer of the latest scandal, the
block upon which the newest fashions are tried. He wears a doublet of
rose-coloured Florence satin quilted with silk, stiff with embroidery
and sown with seed-pearls. The sleeves are slashed with cloth of silver;
a golden chain, with a huge medallion set in diamonds, hangs round his
neck. Placed jauntily over his ear is a velvet cap with a jewelled clasp
and white ostrich plume. Broad golden lace borders his hose, and
high-heeled Cordovan boots--for he desires to appear tall--of amber
leather, with huge golden spurs, complete his attire. Being a man of low
stature--a pigmy beside the Marshal--as the sun streams upon him from
the broad window-panes, he looks like a gaudy human butterfly.

“Well, Bassompierre,” says the Duke eagerly, standing on the points of
his toes, “is it true that your marriage with the incomparable Charlotte
de Montmorenci is broken off?”

Bassompierre bows his head in silence, and a sorrowful look passes over
his jovial face.

“_Pardieu!_ Marshal, for a rejected lover you seem well and hearty. Are
you going to break your heart, or the Prince of Condé’s head--eh,
Marshal?”

A malicious twinkle gathers in Roquelaure’s eye, for there is a certain
satisfaction to a man of his inches in seeing a giant like Bassompierre
unsuccessful.

“Neither, Duke,” replies Bassompierre drily. “I shall in this matter, as
in all others, submit myself to his Majesty’s pleasure.”

“Mighty well spoken, Marshal; you are a perfect model of our court
virtue. But how can a worshipper of ‘the great Alexander,’ at the court
of ‘Lutetia,’ in the very presence of the divine Millegarde, the superb
Dorinda, and all the attendant knights and ladies, tolerate the affront,
the dishonour of a public rejection?” And Roquelaure takes out an
enamelled snuff-box, taps it, and with a pinch of scented snuff between
fingers covered with rings awaits a reply. “Not but that any gentleman,”
continues he, receiving no answer, “who marries the fair Montmorenci
will have perforce to submit to his Majesty’s pleasure--eh, Marshal, you
understand?” and Roquelaure takes his pinch of snuff and dusts his
perfumed beard.

“I cannot allow the lady to be made a subject for idle gossip, Duke,”
replies Bassompierre, drawing himself up to his full height and eying
the other grimly. “Although I am not to have the honour of being her
husband, her good name is as dear to me as before.”

“But, _morbleu_! who blames the lady?”

“Not I--I never blamed a lady in my life, let her do what she may--it is
my creed of honour.’

“But his Majesty’s passion for her is so unconcealed. Perhaps, Marshal,
the King understood that this marriage must break up your ancient
friendship?”

Bassompierre scowls, but makes no reply.

“The King has grown young again,” continues Roquelaure. “Our noble Henri
Quatre,--he orders new clothes every day, wears embroidered collars,
sleeves of carnation satin--(I brought in the mode)” and he glances at
his own--“and scents and perfumes his hair and beard. We are to have
another tournament to-morrow in honour of the marriage of the Prince de
Condé--in reality to show off a suit of armour his Majesty has received
from Milan. Will you have the heart to be present, Marshal?”

“Yes, Duke, I shall attend his Majesty as usual,” replies Bassompierre,
turning away with an offended air.

“Come, Marshal, between such old friends as you and I these airs of
distance are absurd”; and the Duke lays his hand on the other’s arm to
detain him. “Own to me honestly that this marriage with the Prince de
Condé gives you great concern----”

Bassompierre hangs down his head and plays with his sword-knot. “I
should have desired a better husband for her, truly,” answers he in a
low voice. “The Prince is a shabby fellow, with an evil temper. I fear
Mademoiselle de Montmorenci can never affect him,” and a deep sigh
escapes him.

“Never, never,” rejoins Roquelaure, looking round to note who arrives,
“it is an ill-assorted union. You, Bassompierre, would have loved her
well. It was possible she might have reformed your manners. Ha! I have
you there, Marshal. Pardon my joke,” adds he, as he sees a dark scowl
again gathering on the Marshal’s face. “But Condé, the _rustre_, he
hates women--I never saw him address one in his life; a cold, austere
fellow, as solitary as an owl; a miser, and silent too--if he does speak
he is rude and ungracious; and with the temper of a fiend. If he does
right, it is only through obstinacy. I am told he suspects the lady
already, and has set spies to watch her. A pretty match for the fair
Montmorenci truly, who has lived with a sovereign at her feet.”

“Duke,” cries Bassompierre fiercely, secretly writhing under the Duke’s
malicious probing of a heart-wound which still bled, “I have already
observed that any inuendoes touching Mademoiselle de Montmorenci
displease me.”

“Inuendoes! why, Marshal, even Condé confessed the other day that rich
as was the prize, and surpassing the lady, he hesitated to accept ‘one
whom the King’s attention had made so notorious!’ ”

Bassompierre’s eyes flash. He is about to make an angry rejoinder when a
page approaches and summons them to attend his Majesty.

The marriage between Charlotte de Montmorenci and the Prince de Condé
was, as had been anticipated, a failure. Condé, devoured by jealousy,
shut up his wife at Chantilly, or at the still more remote Château of
Muret. The petted beauty, accustomed to the incense of a Court and the
avowed admiration of an infatuated sovereign, scolded and wept, but in
vain. The more bitterly they quarrelled, the more deep and dangerous
became Condé’s enmity to Henry. Disloyalty was the tradition of his
race, rebellious practices with Spain the habit of his house. We have
seen how a Condé was ready to usurp the throne under pretence of a
Regency, during the conflict with the Huguenots at Amboise. His son,
“the great Condé,” is by-and-by to head the standard of revolt, and at
the head of Spanish troops to bring France to the brink of ruin. Avarice
had led him to accept the hand of Charlotte de Montmorenci--avarice and
poverty--and he had counted upon constant espionage and absence from
Court as sufficient precautions. But he was young: he had yet to learn
the wilfulness of his wife and the audacity of the King. As he gradually
discovered that the Princess was neither to be soothed nor coerced, his
rage knew no bounds. Sully, seriously alarmed at the rumours that
reached him respecting the Prince’s language, requested a visit from him
at the Arsenal.

Sully is seated in a sombre closet--looking towards the towers of
Notre-Dame--at a table covered with papers. Condé is tall, thin, and
slightly made. He is singularly ill-favoured, with dark hair and swarthy
skin, a nose quite out of proportion with the rest of his face, and a
sinister expression in his eyes. On entering he cannot conceal his
uneasiness.

“Be seated, monseigneur,” says Sully, scanning him from under his heavy
eyebrows. “I have no time to spare--therefore I must use plain words.
You speak of the King my master in terms that do you little credit. You
are playing the devil, Prince. The King’s patience is well-nigh
exhausted. I am commanded to keep back the payment of the pension you
receive to mark his Majesty’s displeasure. If this has no effect upon
you, other means must be tried.”

While Sully speaks, Condé sits opposite to him unmoved, save that his
dark face hardens, and he fixes his sullen eyes steadfastly upon Sully.

“If I am what you say,” replies he at last doggedly, “if I speak ill of
his Majesty, am I not justified? He is determined to ruin me. He
persecutes me because I choose to keep my wife in the country. It is my
desire to leave France--then I shall no longer give his Majesty
offence.”

“Impossible, monseigneur! As a Prince of the blood your place is at
Court, beside the Sovereign.”

“What! have I not liberty even to visit my own sister, the Princess of
Orange, at Breda, in company with the Princess, my wife? That can be no
affront to his Majesty. Surely, Monsieur de Sully, you cannot advise the
King to refuse so reasonable a request?”

“I shall advise him to refuse it, monseigneur, nevertheless. Persons of
your rank cannot leave the kingdom--the very act is treason.”

Condé casts up his eyes, and his hands--

“Was ever a man so ill used? My personal liberty denied me! My very
allowance stopped!”

“It is said, Prince, that you have plenty of Spanish doubloons at
Chantilly,” returns Sully significantly.

“It is false--tales to ruin me. Ever since my marriage I have been
pursued by informers. It was by his Majesty’s command I married. Now he
desires to seduce my wife--that is the truth. If I appear ungrateful,
there is my reason.”

“His Majesty assures me, Prince,” breaks in Sully, “that his sentiments
towards your illustrious consort are those of a father.”

“A father! Why, then, does he come disguised to Chantilly? He has been
seen hiding in the woods there and at Muret. A pretty father, indeed! By
the grace of God, I will submit to the tyranny of no such a father. It
is a thraldom unbecoming my birth, my position, and my honour! While the
King acts thus I will not come to Court, to be an object of pity and
contempt!”

“You speak of tyranny, Prince, towards yourself. It may be well for your
highness to consider, however, that the King, my master, has to a
certain extent justified your accusation.” Condé looks up at him
keenly. “But it is tyranny exercised in your favour, Monsieur le Prince,
not to your prejudice.”

Sully’s eyes are bent upon the Prince. While he speaks a half smile
flitters about his mouth.

“I do not understand you, Duke. Explain yourself,” replies Condé, with
real or affected ignorance; but something in the expression of Sully’s
face caused him to drop the tone of bravado he had hitherto assumed.

“His Majesty, Prince, has justified your accusation of tyranny by having
hitherto insisted, nay even compelled, those about him to acknowledge
you--well--_for what you are not_!”

Condé almost bounds from his seat. There was a horrible suspicion that
his mother had shortened his father’s life, and this suspicion had cast
doubts upon his legitimacy.

Sully sits back in his chair and contemplates Condé at his ease.

“Your highness will, I think, do well for the future to consider how
much you owe to his Majesty’s bounty in many ways.” And these last words
are strongly emphasised. Condé is silent. “Again, I say, as your
highness is fortunately accepted as a Prince of the blood, you must bear
the penalties of this high position.”

Condé, who has turned ashy pale, rises with difficulty--he even holds
the table for support.

“Have you more to say to me, Duc de Sully, or is our interview ended?”

He speaks in a suppressed voice, and looks careworn and haggard.

“Monseigneur, I have now only to thank you for the honour you have done
me in coming here,” replies Sully, rising, a malicious smile upon his
face. “I commend to your consideration the remarks I have had the honour
to make to you. Believe me, you owe everything to the King, my master.”



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE PREDICTION FULFILLED.


Henry was seated in his closet playing at cards, with Bassompierre, the
Comtes de Soissons, Cœuvres, and Monseigneur de Lorraine. It was
late, and the game was almost concluded, when Monsieur d’Ellène, a
gentleman-in-waiting, entered hurriedly, and whispered something in the
King’s ear. In an instant Henry’s face expressed the utmost
consternation. He threw down his cards, clenched his fists with passion,
and rose hastily; then, leaning over upon Bassompierre’s shoulder, who
sat next to him, he said in a low voice--

“Marshal, I am lost. Condé has fled with his wife into the woods. God
knows whether he means to murder her, or carry her out of France. Take
care of my cards. Go on playing. I must learn more particulars. Do the
same, and follow me as soon as you can.” And he left the room.

But the sudden change in the King’s face and manner had spread alarm in
the circle. No one would play any more, and Bassompierre was assailed
with eager questions. He was obliged to reply that he believed the
Prince de Condé had left France. At this astounding news every tongue
was let loose. Bassompierre then retired, and after having made himself
master of every particular, joined the King, in order to inform him.
Henry listened with horror to Bassompierre’s narrative. Meanwhile, late
as it was (midnight), he commanded a council of state to be called. The
ministers assembled as quickly as was possible. There were present the
Chancellor, the President Jeannin, Villeroy, and the Comtes de
Cœuvres and De Cremail. Henry hastily seated himself at the top of
the table.

“Well, Chancellor, well,--you have heard this dreadful news,” said he,
addressing him. “The poor young Princess! What is your advice? How can
we save her?”

Bellièvre, a grave lawyer, looked astounded at the King’s vehemence.

“Surely, Sire, you cannot apprehend any personal danger to the
illustrious lady?” said he, with hesitation. “The Princesse de Condé is
with her husband, he will doubtless act as is fitting.”

“_Ventre Saint Gris!_” cried the King, boiling with passion. “I want no
comments--the remedy. What is the remedy? How can we rescue her?”

“Well, Sire, if you have reason to misdoubt the good faith of the Prince
de Condé, if her highness be in any danger, you must issue edicts,
proclaim fines, and denounce all persons who harbour and abet him; but I
would advise your Majesty to pause.”

Henry turned away with a violent gesture.

“Now, Villeroy, speak. If the Princess is out of the kingdom, what is to
be done?”

“Your Majesty can do nothing then but through your ambassadors.
Representation must be made to the Court of the country whither the
Prince has fled. You must demand the Prince’s restitution as a rebel.”

The King shrugged his shoulders with infinite disgust. Such slow
measures little suited his impetuous humour.

“Now, President Jeannin,” said Henry, “let us hear your opinion. These
other counsels are too lengthy. God knows what mischief may ere this
have happened.”

“I advise your Majesty,” replied the President, “to send a trusty
officer after the Prince and bring him back along with his wife, if
within the realm. He is doubtless on his way to Flanders. If he has
passed the frontier, the Archduke, who would not willingly offend your
Majesty, will, doubtless, dismiss the Prince at your desire.”

Henry nodded his head approvingly, and turned quickly round to issue
orders at once to follow this advice, which suited the urgency of the
case; all at once he remembered that Sully was not present, and he
hesitated.

“Where is Sully?” cried he.

“Monsieur de Praslin,” replied Bassompierre, who had just left him, “has
been again despatched to fetch him from the Arsenal; but he is not yet
arrived.”

At this moment the door opened, and Sully appeared. It was evident that
he was in one of his surliest moods. Henry, preoccupied as he was,
observed this, and, fearing some outburst, dismissed the Council and
Bassompierre, and carefully shut the door.

“Sully, what am I to do? By the mass! that monster, my nephew, has fled,
and carried off my dear Charlotte with him!”

This was not, as has been seen, the first time that the grave statesman
Sully had been consulted in his master’s love affairs. He had passed
very many hours in endeavouring to cajole Henriette d’Entragues to give
up the fatal marriage contract signed by the King; he had all but
quarrelled with his master in opposing his marriage with Gabrielle
d’Estrées; and he had been called up in the dead of night to remonstrate
with the Queen when, in consequence of a violent quarrel, she had sworn
that she would leave the Louvre. Sully, like the King, had grown old,
and was tired of acting adviser to a headstrong master, whose youthful
follies never seemed to end. Now he gave a grunt of disapproval.

“I am not surprised, Sire. I told you the Prince would go. If he went
himself, it was not likely he would leave his wife behind him--was it?
That would have been too complaisant in his highness. If you wanted to
secure him, you should have shut him up in the Bastille.”

“Sully, this raillery is ill-timed. I am distressed beyond all words.
The Princess is in an awful predicament. Laperrière’s son brought the
news. His father was their guide. He left them in the middle of a dismal
forest. He shall be paid a mine of gold for his information.”

[Illustration: COUCY--INTERIOR, SHOWING THICKNESS OF WALLS.]

Sully shook his head and cast up his hands.

“God help us!” muttered he.

“Never was anything more dreadful,” continued the King. “My beloved
Charlotte was lured from Muret under the pretence of a hunting-party.
She was to be carried to the rendezvous in a coach. The dear creature
started before daylight, says Laperrière’s son, and as the morning
broke, found herself in a strange part of the country--in a plain far
from the forest. She stopped the coach, and called to Virrey, who rode
by the door, and asked him whither they were going? Virrey, confused,
said he would ride on and ask the Prince, who was in advance, leading
the way, the cowardly scoundrel!” and Henry shook his fist in the air.
“My nephew came up, and told her she was on her road to Breda, upon
which the sweet soul screamed aloud, says Laperrière, and lamented,
entreating to be allowed to return. But that ruffian, Condé, rode off
and left her in the middle of the road, bidding the driver push forward.
At last they came to Couçy, where they changed horses. Just as they were
about again to start the coach broke down.”

“Praised be God!” ejaculated Sully. “I hope no one was found to mend
it.”

“Sully, I believe you are without heart or feeling,” cried the King,
reproachfully.

“Not at all, Sire; but my heart and my feelings also are with your
Majesty, not with the Princess. Proceed, Sire, with this touching
narrative.”

“Condé then, says Laperrière, the night beginning to fall, purchased a
pillion at Couçy, and mounted his wife behind him on horseback.” Sully
shook with laughter; but fearing to offend his master, suppressed it as
well as he could. “Her two attendants mounted behind two of the suite,
the guides being in advance. It rained heavily. _Pardieu!_ I can hardly
bear to speak of it. My dear Charlotte in such a condition! The night
was dark; but Condé rode on like a devil incarnate to Castellin, the
first village across the frontier. When she was taken down, Charlotte
fainted.” The tears ran down Henry’s cheeks as he said this. “She
fainted; and then Laperrière, convinced of some treason on the part of
my nephew, despatched his son to tell me these particulars. Now, Sully,”
and the King rose suddenly and seized his hand, shaking off the sorrow
that had overcome him during the narrative, “now tell me, what am I to
do? I would lose my Crown rather than not succour her.”

“Do nothing, Sire,” replied Sully quietly.

“How, Sully! Do nothing?”

“Yes, Sire; I advise you--I implore you, do nothing. If you leave Condé
to himself he will be laughed at. Even his friends will ridicule his
escapade. In three months he will be back again at Court with the
Princess, ashamed of himself. Meantime Madame la Princesse will see
foreign Courts, acquire the Spanish manner from the Archduchess, and
return more fascinating than ever. On the other hand, if you pursue him,
you will exalt him into a political victim; all your Majesty’s enemies
will rally round him.”

Excellent advice, which the King was too infatuated to follow!
Forgetting all decency, and even the law of nations, he insisted on
punishing Condé as a rebel, and called on the Spanish Government
formally to release the Princess. Spain refused; and this ridiculous
passion may be said to have been the approximate cause of that
formidable alliance against Spain in which, at the time of his death,
Henry was about to engage.

The favour which Henry had shown his Protestant subjects had long
rankled in the minds of the Catholics. He was held to be a renegade and
a traitor. It was affirmed that his conversion was a sham, to which he
lent himself only the more effectually to advance the interests of the
reformed faith. While he gave himself up to amorous follies and prepared
for foreign wars, a network of hate, treachery, and fanaticism was fast
closing around him. Enemies and spies filled the Louvre, and dogged his
every movement. Already the footsteps of the assassin approached.

After the birth of the Dauphin a strong political party had gathered
round Marie de’ Medici. Her constant dissensions with the King, her
bitter complaints, and the scandal of his private life, afforded
sufficient grounds for elevating her into a kind of martyr.

The intrigues of Concini, whose easy manners, elegant person, and
audacious counsels had raised him from a low hanger-on at Court into the
principal adviser of his royal mistress, gradually contrived to identify
her interests with those of the great feudal princes, still absolute
sovereigns in their own territory. The maintenance of the Catholic
Church against heresy, and the security of the throne for her son, were
the ostensible motives of this coalition. But the bond between Marie
and her chief supporters, the powerful Ducs de Bouillon and d’Epernon,
was in reality a common hatred of Henry and a bitter jealousy of Sully,
whose clear intellect and firm hand had directed with such extraordinary
sagacity the helm of state throughout Henry’s long and stormy reign.

Evil influences, which displayed themselves in predictions, warnings,
and prophesies, were abroad. The death of the King would at once raise
Marie, as Regent for her son, to sovereign power, and throw the whole
control of the State into the hands of her adherents. How far Marie was
implicated in the events about to happen can never be known, and whether
she listened to the dark hints of her Italian attendants, _that by the
King’s death alone_ she could find relief. But undoubtedly the barbarous
cruelty with which Concini and his wife were afterwards murdered by
Henry’s friends had regard to this suspicion. Whether the Duc d’Epernon
knew beforehand of the conspiracy, and insured his master’s death by a
final thrust when he had already been struck by the assassin, or whether
Henriette d’Entragues, out of revenge for the King’s passion for the
Princesse de Condé, herself instigated Ravaillac to the act, must ever
remain a mystery.

Marie de’ Medici, urged by the Concini, and advised by her friend the
Duc d’Epernon, was at this time unceasing in her entreaties to the King
to consent to her coronation at Saint-Denis. According to her varying
mood she either wept, raved and stamped about the room, or kissed,
coaxed, and cajoled him. And there was cause for her pertinacity.
Henry’s weak compliances with Henriette d’Entragues’ pretensions, her
residence in the Louvre, and her boastings of that unhappy promise of
marriage, had given occasion for questions to arise touching the
legitimacy of the Dauphin. Those who were politically opposed to the
King would be ready, at any moment after his death, to justify rebellion
on the pretence of a prior contract invalidating his present marriage.

Such an idea drove the Queen frantic. There was no peace for Henry until
he consented to her coronation. Yet he was strangely reluctant to
comply. An unaccountable presentiment of danger connected with that
ceremony pursued him. He had never been the same since the loss of the
Princesse de Condé. Now he was dull, absent, and indifferent, ate little
and slept ill. Nothing interested or pleased him, save the details of
his great campaign against Spain, which was about to convulse all
Europe.

“Ah, my friend,” said he to Sully, “how this ceremony of the coronation
distresses me. Whenever I think about it I cannot shake off sinister
forebodings. Alas! I fear I shall never live to head my army. I shall
die in this city of Paris. I shall never see the Princesse de Condé
again. Ah, cursed coronation! I shall die while they are about it.
Bassompierre tells me the maypole, which was set up in the court of the
Louvre, has just fallen down. It is an evil omen.”

“Well, Sire,” returned Sully, “postpone the ceremony.”

“No, Sully, no; it shall not be said that Henry IV. trembled before an
idle prophecy. For twenty years, Sully, I have heard of predictions of
my death. After all, nothing will happen to me but what is ordained.”

“My God, Sire!” exclaimed Sully, “I never heard your Majesty speak so
before. Countermand the coronation, I entreat you. Let the Queen not be
crowned at all rather than lose your peace of mind. What does it matter?
It is but a woman’s whim.”

“Ah, Sully, what will my wife say? I dare not approach her unless I keep
my word;--her heart is so set upon being crowned.”

“Let her say what she pleases, Sire; never heed her. Allow me to
persuade her Majesty to postpone the ceremony.”

“Try, Sully; try, if you please:--you will find what the Queen is. She
will not consent to put it off.”

The King spoke truly. Marie de’ Medici flew into a violent rage, and
positively refused to listen to any postponement whatever. The
coronation was fixed to take place on Thursday, the 13th of May.

It is certain that the King was distinctly warned of his approaching
death. The very day and hour were marked with a cross of blood in an
almanack sent to him anonymously. A period of six hours on the 14th of
May was marked as fatal to him. If he survived that time, on that day--a
Friday--he was safe. The day named for his death was that preceding the
public entry of the Queen into Paris, after her coronation at
Saint-Denis. He rose at six o’clock in the morning on that day, Friday,
the 14th of May. On his way down-stairs, he was met by the Duc de
Vendôme, his son by Gabrielle d’Estrées. Vendôme held in his hand a
paper, which he had found lying on his table. It was a horoscope, signed
by an astrologer called La Brosse, warning the King that the
constellation under which he was born threatened him with great danger
on the 14th of May. “My father,” said Vendôme, standing in his path, “do
not go abroad; spend this day at home.”

“La Brosse, my boy,” replied Henry, looking at the paper, “is an old
fox. Do you not see that he wants money? You are a young fool to mind
him. My life is in the hands of God, my son,--I shall live or die as he
pleases,--let me pass.”

He heard mass early, and passed the day as usual. At a quarter to four
o’clock in the afternoon he ordered his coach, to visit Sully at the
Arsenal, who was ailing. The streets were much crowded. Paris was full
of strangers, assembled for the coronation, and to see the spectacle of
the Queen’s public entry. Stages and booths blocked up the
thoroughfares. Henry was impatient for the arrival of his coach, and
took his seat in it immediately it arrived. He signed to the Duc
d’Epernon to seat himself at his right hand. De Liancourt and Mirabeau,
his lords in waiting, placed themselves opposite to him. The Ducs de
Lavardin, Roquelaure, and Montbazon, and the Marquis de la Force, took
their places on either side. Besides these noblemen seated inside, a few
guards accompanied him on horseback, but when he reached the _hôtel_ of
the Duc de Longueville, the King stopped and dismissed all his
attendants, save those lords in the coach with him. From the Rue
Saint-Honoré, which was greatly crowded, they entered the Rue de la
Ferronnière, on the way to the Arsenal. This was a narrow street, and
numbers of wooden stalls (such as are still seen on the boulevards in
Paris) were ranged along a dead wall, on one of the sides. There was a
block of carts about these booths, and the royal coach was obliged to
draw up close against the dead wall. The running footmen went forward to
clear the road; the coach halted close to the wall. Ravaillac now
slipped between the wall and the coach, and jumping on one of the
wheels, stabbed the King twice in the breast and ribs. The knife passed
through a shirt of fine cambric, richly embroidered _à jour_. A third
time the assassin raised his hand to strike, but only ripped up the
sleeve of the Duc de Montbazon’s doublet, upon whom the King had fallen.
“I am wounded,” gasped Henry, “but it is nothing--” Then the Duc
d’Epernon raised his royal master in his arms. Henry made a convulsive
effort to speak, he was choked by blood, and fell back lifeless. He was
brought back dead to the Louvre. There he lay in state, clothed in his
coronation robes, the crown upon his head.

The bloody almanack had told true. Henry had circled twenty times the
magic chamber of life!



CHAPTER XXIX.

LOUIS XIII.


It is related that the night after the assassination of Henri Quatre by
Ravaillac, and while his body lay in the Louvre, his little son, Louis
XIII., screaming with terror, cried out that he saw the same men who had
murdered his father coming to kill him. Louis was not to be pacified
until he was carried to his mother’s bed, where he passed the rest of
the night.

To this infantine terror, this early association with death and murder,
may be traced the strange character of Louis; weak in body and mind,
timid, suspicious, melancholy, superstitious, an undutiful son, a bad
husband, and an unworthy king. The fame of his great father, and the
enthusiasm his memory inspired, instead of filling him with emulation,
crushed and depressed him. He became a complete “_Roi fainéant_.” His
reign was the reign of favourites, and nothing was heard of the monarch
but in connection with them, save that, with a superstition worthy of
the Middle Ages, he formerly placed France “under the protection of the
Virgin.”

His early favourite, Albret the Gascon, created Duc de Luynes and
Constable of France, was his tyrant. As long as he lived Louis both
hated and feared him. He hated his mother, he hated Richelieu, he hated
his wife, Anne of Austria. Louis, surnamed “the Just,” had a great
capacity for hatred.

Poor Anne of Austria, to whom he was married at fifteen, she being the
same age, what a lot was hers!

Her personal charms actually revolted the half-educated, awkward boy,
whom all the world thought she would govern despotically. He could not
help acknowledging her exceeding loveliness; but she was his superior,
and he knew it. He shrank back, terrified, at her vivacity and her
talents. Her innocent love of amusement jarred against his morbid
nature. Melancholy himself, he disliked to see others happy, and from
the day of their marriage he lived as much apart from her as state
etiquette permitted.

Maria de’ Medici, ambitious and unprincipled as ever, widened the breach
between them. She still sat supreme in the council, and regulated public
affairs. Richelieu, her favourite and minister during the Regency, in
continual dread of a possible reconciliation between Louis and his wife,
and in love with the young Queen himself, was rapidly rising to that
dictatorship which he exercised over France and the King until he died.
Both he and the Queen-mother roused Louis’s jealousy against his wife,
and dropped dark hints of danger to his throne, perhaps to his life.
They succeeded only too well; the King and Queen become more and more
estranged.

Anne of Austria uttered no complaint. She showed no anger, but her pride
was deeply wounded, and amongst her ladies and her friends her joyous
raillery did not spare the King. Reports of her flirtations also, as
well as of her _bon mots_ and her mimicry, heightened by the malice of
those whose interest it was to keep them asunder, reached Louis, and
alienated him more and more. Anne, too young to be fully aware of the
growing danger of her position, vain of her success, and without either
judicious friends or competent advisers, took no steps to reconcile
herself to her husband. Coldness and estrangement rapidly grew into
downright dislike and animosity; suspicions were exaggerated into
certainty, until at last she came to be treated as a conspirator and a
criminal.

The age was an age of intrigue, treachery, and rebellion. The growing
power of the nobles narrowed the authority of the throne. The incapacity
of the King strengthened the pretensions of the princes. Spain,
perpetually at war with France, sought its dismemberment by most
disloyal conspiracies. Every disaffected prince or rebellious noble
found a home at the Court of Philip, brother of Anne of Austria.

Thus Louis knew nothing of royalty but its cares and dangers. As a boy,
browbeaten and overborne by his mother, when arrived at an age when his
own sense and industry might have remedied defects of education, he took
it for granted that his ignorance was incapacity, his timidity
constitutional deficiency.

A prime minister was absolutely indispensable to such a monarch, and
Louis at least showed some discernment in selecting for that important
post the Bishop of Luçon (Cardinal Richelieu), the _protégé_ of his
mother.

Estranged from his wife, pure in morals, and correct in conduct, Louis,
still a mere youth, yearned for female sympathy. A confidante was as
necessary as a minister--one as immaculate as himself, into whose ear
he could, without fear of scandal, murmur the griefs and anxieties of
his life. Such a woman he found in Mademoiselle de Hautefort, maid of
honour to the Queen. Her modesty and her silence first attracted him.
Her manners were reserved, her speech soft and gentle. She was naturally
of a serious turn of mind, and had been carefully educated. She took
great apparent interest in all the King said to her. Her conversation
became so agreeable to him, that he dared by degrees to confide to her
his loneliness, his misery, and even his bodily infirmities, which were
neither few nor slight. This intimacy, to a solitary young King who
longed for affection, yet delicately shrunk from the slightest semblance
of intrigue, was alluring in the highest degree.

Long, however, ere Louis had favoured her with his preference she had
given her whole heart to her mistress, Anne of Austria. Every word the
King uttered was immediately repeated to the Queen, with such comments
as caused the liveliest entertainment to that lovely princess, who
treated the _liaison_ as an admirable joke, and entreated her maid of
honour to humour the King to the very utmost, so as to afford her the
greatest possible amount of amusement.

The Court is at Compiègne. Since the days of Clotaire it has been a
favourite hunting-lodge of the Kings of France. One vast façade
stretches along verdant banks sloping to the river Oise, across which an
ancient bridge (on which Jeanne d’Arc, fighting against the English, was
taken prisoner) leads into the sunny little town. On the farther side of
the château a magnificent terrace, bordered by canals, links it to the
adjoining forest. So close to this terrace still press the ancient trees
and woodland alleys, backed by rising hills crowned with lofty elms, and
broken by deep hollows where feathery beeches wave, that even to this
day the whole scene faithfully represents an ancient chase. So immense
is the château that the two Queens, Marie de’ Medici and Anne of
Austria, could each hold distinct Courts within its walls. Marie, in the
suite called the “Apartments of the Queens-dowager of France,” then hung
with ancient tapestry and painted in fresco, looking over the grassy
lawns beside the river and the town; Anne, in the stately rooms towards
the forest and the woodland heights.

Within a vaulted room, the walls hung with Cordova leather stamped in
patterns of gorgeous colours, Anne of Austria is seated at her toilette.
Before her is a mirror, framed in lace and ribbons, placed on a silver
table. She wears a long white _peignoir_ thrown over a robe of azure
satin. Her luxuriant hair is unbound and falls over her shoulders; Doña
Estafania, her Spanish dresser, who has never left her, assisted by
Madame Bertant, combs and perfumes it, drawing out many curls and
ringlets from the waving mass, which, at a little distance, the morning
sunshine turns into a shower of gold. Around her stand her maids of
honour, Mademoiselles de Guerchy, Saint-Mégrin, and de Hautefort. The
young Queen is that charming anomaly, a Spanish _blonde_. She has large
blue eyes that can languish or sparkle, entreat or command, pencilled
eyebrows, and a mouth full-lipped and rosy. She has the prominent nose
of her family; her complexion, of the most dazzling fairness, is
heightened by rouge. She is not tall, but her royal presence, even in
youth, lends height to her figure. When she smiles her face expresses
nothing but innocence and candour; but she knows how to frown, and to
make others frown also.

There is a stir among the attendants, and the King enters. He is
assiduous in saluting her Majesty at her lever when Mademoiselle de
Hautefort is present. Louis XIII. has inherited neither the rough though
martial air of his father, nor the beauty of his Italian mother. His
face is long, thin, and sallow; his hair dark and scanty. He is far from
tall, and very slight, and an indescribable air of melancholy pervades
his whole person. As Louis approaches her, Anne is placing a diamond
pendant in her ear; her hands are exquisitely white and deliciously
shaped, and she loves to display them. She receives the King, who
timidly advances, with sarcastic smiles and insolent coldness. While he
is actually addressing her, she turns round to her lady in waiting, the
Duchesse de Chevreuse, who stands behind her chair, holding a
hand-mirror set in gold, whispers in her ear and laughs, then points
with her dainty finger, bright with costly rings, to the King, who
stands before her. Louis blushes, waits some time for an answer, which
she does not vouchsafe to give; then, greatly embarrassed, retreats into
a corner near the door, and seats himself.

The Duchesse de Chevreuse, the friend and confidante of Anne of Austria,
widow of the King’s favourite the Duc de Luynes, now a second time

[Illustration: LOUIS XIII., KING OF FRANCE AND OF NAVARRE

FROM AN OLD PRINT]

Duchess, as wife of Claude Lorraine, Duc de Chevreuse, an adventuress
and an _intrigante_, is a gipsy-faced, bewitching woman, dark-skinned,
velvet-eyed, and enticing; her cheeks dimpling with smiles, her black
eyes dancing with mischief.

The King sits lost in thought, with an anxious and almost tearful
expression, gazing fixedly at Mademoiselle de Hautefort who stands
behind the Queen’s chair among the maids of honour. Suddenly he becomes
aware that all eyes are turned upon him. He rises quickly, and makes a
sign to Mademoiselle de Hautefort to approach him; but the eyes of the
maid of honour are fixed upon the ground. With a nervous glance towards
the door, he reseats himself on the edge of his chair. The Queen turns
towards him, then to Mademoiselle de Hautefort, and laughs, whilst the
maid of honour busies herself with some lace. A moment after she
advances towards the Queen, carrying the ruff in her hand which is to
encircle her Majesty’s neck.

Anne leans back, adjusts the ruff, and whispers to her--“Look,
mademoiselle, look at your despairing lover. He longs to go away, but he
cannot tear himself from you. I positively admire his courage. Go to
him, _ma belle_--he is devouring you with his eyes. Have you no mercy on
the anointed King of France?”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort colours, and again turns her eyes to the
ground.

“Duchesse,” continues Anne in a low voice, addressing the Duchesse de
Chevreuse, “tell mademoiselle what you would do were you adored by a
great king. Would you refuse to look at him when he stands before
you--red, white, smiling, almost weeping, a spectacle of what a fool
even a sovereign may make of himself?” And the Queen laughs again
softly, and, for an instant, mimicks the grotesque expression of the
King’s face.

“Madame,” says Mademoiselle de Hautefort, looking up and speaking
gravely, “the opinion of Madame la Duchesse would not influence me. We
take different views of life. Your Majesty knows that the King is not my
lover, and that I only converse with him out of the duty I owe your
Majesty. I beseech you, Madame,” adds she, in a plaintive voice, “do not
laugh at me. My task is difficult enough. I have to amuse a Sovereign
who cannot be amused--to feign an interest I do not feel. Her grace the
Duchesse de Chevreuse would, I doubt not, know how to turn the
confidence with which his Majesty honours me to much better account”;
and Mademoiselle de Hautefort glances angrily at the Duchess, who smiles
scornfully, and makes her a profound curtsey.

“You say true, mademoiselle,” replies she; “I should certainly pay more
respect to his Majesty’s exalted position, and perhaps I should feel
more sympathy for the passion I had inspired. However, you are but a
mere girl, new to court life. You will learn in good time,
mademoiselle--you will learn.”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort, about to make a bitter reply, is interrupted
by the Queen.

“Come, _petite sotte_,” says Anne, still speaking under her breath,
“don’t lose your temper. We all worship you as the modern Diana. Venus
is not at all in the line of our royal spouse. Look, he can bear it no
longer; he has left the room. There he stands in the anteroom, casting
one last longing look after you; I see it in the glass. Go,
mademoiselle, I dismiss you--go and console his Majesty with your
Platonic friendship.”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort left the room, and was instantly joined by
Louis, who drew her into the embrasure of an oriel window.



CHAPTER XXX.

THE ORIEL WINDOW.


“You have come at last,” said Louis eagerly. “Why would you not look at
me? I have suffered tortures; I abhor the Queen’s ladies, a set of
painted Jezebels, specially the Duchesse de Chevreuse, a dangerous
intriguer, her Majesty’s evil genius. I saw them all mocking me. Why did
you not look at me? you knew I came for you,” repeated he, querulously.

“Surely, Sire, I could not be so presumptuous as to imagine that a visit
to her Majesty from her husband concerned me.”

“Her husband! would I had never seen her, or her friend the Duchesse.
They are both--well, I will not say what, certainly spies, spies of
Spain. My principles forbid me to associate with such women. You look
displeased, mademoiselle--what have I done?”--for Mademoiselle de
Hautefort showed by her expression the disapproval she felt at his
abuse of the Queen. “It is your purity, your sweetness, that alone make
the Court bearable. But you are not looking at me--cruel, selfish girl!
would you too forsake me?”

The maid of honour feeling that she must say something, and assume an
interest she did not feel, looked up into the King’s face and smiled. “I
am here, Sire, for your service. I am neither cruel nor selfish, but I
am grieved at the terms in which you speak of my gracious mistress. Let
me pray your Majesty, most humbly, not to wound me by such language.”

Her look, her manner, softened the irritable Louis. He took her hand
stealthily and kissed it. He gazed at her pensively for some moments
without speaking.

“How beautiful you are, and wise as you are beautiful!” exclaimed he at
length. “I have much to say to you, but not about my Spanish wife. Let
us not mention her.” His eyes were still riveted on the maid of honour;
his lips parted as if to speak, then he checked himself, but still
retained her hand, which he pressed.

“You hunted yesterday, Sire,” said she, confused at the King’s silence
and steadfast gaze; “what number of stags did you kill? I was not
present at the _curée_.” She gently withdrew her hand from the King’s
grasp.

“I did not hunt yesterday; I was ill,” replied Louis. “I am ill, very
ill.”

This allusion to his health instantly changed the current of his
thoughts, for Louis was a complete valetudinarian. He became suddenly
moody, and sank heavily into a seat placed behind a curtain, the thick
folds of which concealed both him and the maid of honour.

“I am harassed, sick to death of everything. I should die but for you. I
can open my heart to you.” And then suddenly becoming conscious that
Mademoiselle de Hautefort still stood before him, he drew a chair close
to his side, on which he desired her to seat herself.

Mademoiselle de Hautefort, knowing well that the King would now go on
talking to her for a long time, assumed an attitude of pleased
attention. Louis looked pale and haggard. His sallow cheeks were shrunk,
his large eyes hollow. As he spoke a hectic flush went and came upon his
face.

“Will you not let me take your hand, mademoiselle?” said he, timidly. “I
feel I could talk much better if I did, and I have much to say to you.”

She reluctantly placed her hand in his. The King sighed deeply.

“What is the matter, Sire?”

“Ah, that is the question! I long to tell you. I sigh because I am weary
of my life. My mother, who still calls herself Regent, and pretends to
govern the kingdom, quarrels perpetually with Richelieu. The council is
distracted by her violence and ill-temper; affairs of state are
neglected. She reproaches Richelieu publicly for his ingratitude, as she
calls it, because he will not support her authority rather than the good
of the kingdom. The Duc d’Epernon supports her. He is as imperious as
she is. Her ambition embitters my life, as it embittered that of my
great father.”

“Oh, Sire, remember that the Queen-dowager of France is your mother.
Besides, Richelieu owes everything to her favour. Had it not been for
her he would have remained an obscure bishop at Luçon all his life. She
placed him at Court.”

“Yes, and he shall stay there. _Par Dieu!_ he shall stay there. If any
one goes it shall be my mother. I feel I myself have no capacity for
governing; I shrink from the tremendous responsibility; but I am better
able to undertake it than the Queen-mother. Her love of power is so
excessive she would sacrifice me and every one else to keep it--she and
the Duc d’Epernon,” he added, bitterly. “Richelieu is an able minister.
He is ambitious, I know, but I am safe in his hands. He can carry out no
measures of reform, he cannot maintain the dignity of the Crown, if he
is for ever interfered with by a fractious woman,--vain, capricious,
incompetent.”

“Oh, Sire!” and Mademoiselle de Hautefort held up her hands to stop him.

“It is true, madame. Did not the Queen-mother and her creatures, the
Concini and the Duc d’Epernon, all but plunge France into civil war
during her regency? She was nigh being deposed, and I with her. What a
life I led until De Luynes rescued me! He presumed upon my favour, _le
fripon_, and brought boat-loads of Gascon cousins to Court from Guienne.
I never knew a man have so many cousins! They came in shoals, and never
one of them with a silken cloak to his back--a beggarly lot!”

“But, Sire,” said Mademoiselle de Hautefort, sitting upright in her
chair, and trying to fix the King’s wandering mind, “why do you need
either her Majesty the Queen-mother or the Cardinal de Richelieu?
Depend on no one. Govern for yourself, Sire.”

“Impossible, impossible. I am too weak. I have no capacity. I have none
of my great father’s genius.” And the King lifted his feathered hat
reverently from his head each time he named his father. “Richelieu rules
for me. He has intellect. He will maintain the honour of France. The
nation is safe in his hands. As for me, I am tyrannised over by my
mother, laughed at by my Spanish wife, and betrayed by my own brother. I
am not fit to reign. Every one despises me--except you.” And the King
turned with an appealing look towards Mademoiselle de Hautefort. “You, I
hope, at least, understand me. You do me justice.”

There was a melting expression in the King’s eyes which she had never
seen before. It alarmed her. She felt that her only excuse for the
treacherous part she was acting was in the perfect innocence of their
relations. A visible tremor passed over her. She blushed violently, a
look of pain came into her face, and her eyes fell before his gaze.

“You do not speak? Have I offended you?” cried Louis, much excited.
“What have I said? Oh, mademoiselle, do not lose your sympathy for me,
else I shall die! I know I am unworthy of your notice; but--see how I
trust you. The hours I spend in your society give me the only happiness
I enjoy. Pity, pity the King of France, who craves your help, who
implores your sympathy!”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort, speaking in her usual quiet manner, entreated
him to be calm.

“Am I forgiven?” said he in a faltering voice, looking the picture of
despair. “Will you still trust me?”

“Yes, yes, Sire. I am ashamed to answer such a question. Your Majesty
has given me no offence.”

Louis reseated himself.

“It is to prepare you for an unexpected event that I wish to talk to
you. It is possible that I may shortly leave Compiègne suddenly and
secretly. I must tear myself away from you for a while.”

“Leave the Court, Sire! What do you mean?”

“The quarrels between my mother and Richelieu are more than I can
endure. They must end. One must go--I will not say which. You can guess.
I am assured by Richelieu, who has information from all parts of France,
that her Majesty is hated by the people. She is suspected of a knowledge
of my great father’s death; she has abused her position. No one feels
any interest in her fate.”

“But, surely, your Majesty feels no pleasure in knowing that it is so,
even if it be true, which I much doubt.”

“Well, her Majesty has deserved little favour of me,” replied he with
indifference. “Richelieu tells me that her exile would be a popular
act----”

“Her exile, Sire! You surely do not contemplate the exile of your own
mother?”

“Possibly not--possibly not; but a sovereign must be advised by his
ministers. It is indispensable to the prosperity of the State.”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort was silent, but something of the contempt she
felt might have been seen in her expressive eyes.

“I do not feel disposed,” continued he, “to face the anger of the
Queen-mother when she hears my determination. She would use violent
language to me that might make me forget I am her son. Richelieu must
break it to her. He can do it while I am away. Agitation injures my
health, it deranges my digestion. I have enough to bear from my wife,
from whom it is not so easy to escape----”

Again he stopped abruptly, as if he were about to say more than he
intended.

Mademoiselle de Hautefort, ever on the lookout for all that concerned
her mistress the Queen, glanced at him with sullen curiosity. Her eyes
read his thoughts.

“Your Majesty is concealing something from me?” she said.

“Well, yes,”--and he hesitated--“it is a subject too delicate to
mention.”

“Have you, then, withdrawn your confidence from me, Sire?” asked she,
affecting the deepest concern.

“No, no--never. I tell you everything--yet, I blush to allude to such a
subject.”

“What subject, Sire? Does it concern her Majesty?”

“By heaven it does!” cried the King, with unwonted excitement, a look of
rage on his face. “It is said--” and he stopped, and looked round
suspiciously, and became crimson. “Not here--not here,” he muttered,
rising. “I cannot speak of it here. It is too public. Come with me into
this closet.”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort, foreboding some misfortune to the Queen,
followed him, trembling in every limb, into a small retiring-closet
opening from the gallery where they had been seated. He drew her close
to the window, glanced cautiously around, and placed his hand on her
arm.

“It is said,”--he spoke in a low voice--“it is said--and appearances
confirm it--that”--and he stooped, and whispered some words in
Mademoiselle de Hautefort’s ear, who started back with horror. “If it be
so,” he added coolly, “I shall crave a dispensation from the Pope, and
send the Queen back to Madrid.”

“For shame, Sire! you are deceived,” cried Mademoiselle de Hautefort, an
expression of mingled disgust, anger, and terror on her face. She could
hardly bring herself to act out the part imposed upon her for the
Queen’s sake. She longed to overwhelm the unmanly Louis with her
indignation; but she controlled her feelings. “On my honour, Sire,” said
she firmly, “they do but converse as friends. For the truth of this I
wager my life--my salvation.”

“Nothing of the kind,” insisted Louis doggedly. “It is your exalted
virtue that blinds you to their wickedness. My mother, who hates
me--even my mother pities me; she believes in the Queen’s guilt.”

“Sire,” broke in the maid of honor impetuously, her black eyes full of
indignation, “I have already told you I will not hear my royal mistress
slandered; this is a foul slander. To me she is as sacred as your
Majesty, who are an anointed king.” Louis passed his hand over his brow,
and mused in silence. “I beseech you, Sire, listen to me,” continued
she, seeing his irresolution. “I speak the truth; before God I speak the
truth!” Louis looked fixedly at her. Her vehemence impressed, if it did
not convince him. “Your Majesty needs not the counsel of the
Queen-mother in affairs of state; do not trust her, or any one else, in
matters touching the honour of your consort.” And she raised her eyes,
and looked boldly at him. “Promise me, Sire, to dismiss this foul tale
from your mind.”

“All your words are precious, mademoiselle,” replied Louis evasively,
and he caught her hand and kissed it with fervour.

Mademoiselle de Hautefort dared not press him further. She withdrew her
hand. They were both silent, and stood opposite to each other. As Louis
gazed into her eyes, still sparkling with indignation, his anger melted
away.

“When I am gone, mademoiselle,” said he tenderly, “do not forget me. You
are my only friend. I will watch over you, though absent. Here is a
piece of gold, pure and unalloyed as are my feelings toward you,” and he
disengaged from his neck a medallion delicately chased. “See, I have
broken it. One half I will keep; the other shall rest in your bosom”;
and he pressed it to his lips, and placed it in Mademoiselle de
Hautefort’s hands. “As long as you hold that piece of gold without the
other half, know that as the token is divided between us, so is my
heart--the better half with you.”

Her conscience smote her as she received this pledge. Louis had such
perfect faith in her integrity, she almost repented that her duty to the
Queen forced her to deceive him.

“Your Majesty overwhelms me,” said she, making a deep reverence.

“The Court is full of intrigues,” continued Louis, “I have no wish to
control my minister; but remember this--obey no order, defy all
commands, that are delivered to you without that token.” The maid of
honour bowed her head. A tear stole down her cheek; the King’s
simplicity touched her in spite of herself. “Adieu, mademoiselle,” said
he, “my best, my only friend. I humbly crave your pardon for aught I may
have said or done to wound your delicacy. We will meet at Saint-Germain:
then, perhaps, you will fear me less. We will meet at Saint-Germain.”

He hesitated, and approached dangerously near to the handsome maid of
honour, whose confusion made her all the more attractive. As he
approached, she retreated.

Suddenly the curtain was drawn aside, and a page entered the closet, and
announced--

“The Queen-dowager, who demands instant admittance to her son, the
King.”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort disappeared in an instant through a door
concealed in the arras. The King, pale as death, put his hand to his
heart, sank into a chair, and awaited the arrival of his mother.



CHAPTER XXXI.

AN OMINOUS INTERVIEW.


Louis had not long to wait; scarcely a moment passed before Marie de’
Medici appeared. She entered hastily; marks of violent agitation were on
her countenance; her brows were knit; her eyes flashed. She was in the
prime of middle life, but grown stout and unwieldy; her delicate
complexion had become red and coarse, and her voice was loud and harsh;
but her height, and the long habit of almost absolute command, gave her
still an imposing presence. Louis involuntarily shuddered at her
approach; he had been long accustomed to tremble at her frown. His first
impulse was to fly by the same door through which Mademoiselle de
Hautefort had vanished. He rose, however, bowed low before her, and
offered her a seat.

“My son,” she cried in a husky voice, walking straight up to him, “I
have come to request you instantly to banish Richelieu. If you do not, I
shall return to Florence. The insolence of that villain whom I have made
your minister is intolerable. He has disobeyed my express commands!”

“What has Richelieu done, madame?”

“Is it not enough that I, your mother, who have governed France almost
from your birth, should declare to you my pleasure? Would you prefer a
lackey to your own mother?”[21] “Let it suffice that Richelieu has
offended me past forgiveness. Sit down, my son”--and she seized on the
terrified Louis, and almost forced him into a chair beside the
table--“here are my tablets; write instantly an order that within
twenty-four hours Richelieu leaves France forever.”

Louis took the tablets, but his trembling hands could not hold them. The
jewelled leaves of ivory, set in gold, fell on the ground with a crash.
There was a pause.

“What! Louis, you hesitate to obey me?” and the Queen’s fierce eyes
darted a look of fury at the King, whose slender figure positively
seemed to shrink as she laid her hand upon him.

“My mother,” he said, in a faltering voice, “you have told me nothing. A
great minister like Richelieu cannot be dismissed on the instant.”

“Yes, he can, if there be another to replace him, a better than he; one
who knows the respect due to the Queen-dowager of France, the widow of
Henry the Great, your mother, and still Regent of the kingdom.”

“But, Madame, what has Richelieu done to offend you?” and the King had
the courage to meet his mother’s glance unmoved.

“He has dared to disobey my positive orders. I had appointed the Duc
d’Epernon governor of Poitiers. He has placed there a creature of his
own. After this insult, you will understand, I can never again sit at
the Council with Richelieu.”

“Well, Madame, and suppose you do not!” rejoined the King, whose nervous
dread was rapidly giving place to resentment at his mother’s arrogance.
“I shall still be King of France, and Richelieu will be my minister.”

“Undutiful boy!” exclaimed Marie de’ Medici, and she raised her hand as
if to strike him; “You forget yourself.”

“No, Madame, it is you who forget that, if I am your son, I am also your
king. You may strike me, if you please, Madame,” added he in a lower
voice, “but I will not sign the exile of Richelieu.” The countenance of
Louis darkened with growing passion; the threatening aspect of his
mother standing before him with upraised arm, aroused him to unwonted
courage. “I will not exile Richelieu. I leave him to settle his
differences with you and your favourites--their claims do not concern
me. I will have no more _Concini_, madame; I would rather abdicate at
once.” And turning on his heel, without another word, or even saluting
the Queen, he left the room.

A sudden dizziness, an overwhelming conviction of something new and
strange in her position, sobered the passion of Marie de’ Medici the
instant the King was gone. She stood motionless where he had left her,
save that her uplifted arm dropped to her side. A mournful look--the
shadow of coming misfortunes--clouded her face. Silent and dejected, the
tears streaming from her eyes, she withdrew. When she had reached her
own apartments, she commanded that no one should be admitted.

That same day the King left Compiègne, taking with him only two
attendants. No one knew whither he was gone.

Early the next morning the Queen-mother’s ladies were startled by the
appearance of Cardinal Richelieu in her anteroom. It was long since he,
who was wont never to be absent from her service, had been seen there.

“Tell her Majesty,” he said to the Duchesse d’Epernon, “that I am come
on urgent state business, by the express command of the King, and that I
must speak with her in person.”

After some delay he was admitted into the Queen’s apartment.

Marie de’ Medici wears a long robe of black velvet, and a widow’s coif
upon her head. She looks old, worn, and anxious; she is neither
imperious nor angry. She begins to realise that power is passing from
her; she is intensely curious, not to say alarmed, as to what the
intelligence may be, of which the Cardinal is the bearer; and she now
secretly repents that she has quarrelled with him.

The Cardinal wears a close-fitting black _soutane_ bound with purple,
and a _beretta_ of the same colour on his head; he has nothing of the
churchman in his appearance. He is still a young man, upright in figure
and easy in manner, attractions which he owes to his early military
training. He has piercing black eyes, light brown hair that lies
straight upon his forehead, and a pale, thoughtful face, already lined
with wrinkles. His closely shutting mouth, thin-lipped and stern,
expresses inflexible determination. His manners are composed, almost
gentle; his voice melodious. He has not yet become the imperious
autocrat--the merciless butcher of the chivalrous nobles of France--of
after years. Chalais and Montmorenci have not yet fallen by his order on
the scaffold; and Cinq-Mars is a precocious lad, living with his mother
on the banks of the Loire. Without vanity he knows that he has genius to
conceive great deeds, and industry to elaborate every necessary detail.
Already the consciousness of growing greatness forces itself upon him.
The incompetence of the King, his indolent acquiescence in all his
measures, the jealousy between Louis and his mother whom the King has
hitherto not dared to check, his alienation from the young Queen his
wife, open before Richelieu’s mental vision a vista of almost boundless
power. Now he stands in the presence of his early benefactress, the
sovereign to whom he would have been faithful, had such fidelity been
consistent with the welfare of France and his own ambition. Spite of
habitual self-control, he is greatly moved at her forlorn condition. He
still hopes that he may save her from an overwhelming calamity.

Richelieu advances to where the Queen-mother is seated beside the
hearth, and after making a profound obeisance waits for her to address
him.

“You bear to me a message from my son. What can he have to say to me,
that he cannot speak himself?” Marie asks with dignity.

“Nothing, my most gracious mistress,” replies Richelieu, almost
submissively, “if your Majesty will deign to be guided by my counsel.”

“You call me your mistress, Cardinal,” says Marie bitterly; “but you
have left my service, and you disobey my positive commands. How can I
treat with such a hypocrite?”

“Madame, I beseech you, let not personal animosity towards myself--be I
innocent or guilty of what you accuse me--blind you to the danger in
which you now stand.”

“Danger! What do you mean? To what danger do you allude?”

“The danger that threatens you, Madame, in the displeasure of his
Majesty.”

“Ah, I perceive. My son strikes through you, my creature, that he may
crush me. I congratulate your eminence on your triumphant ingratitude.”

“Madame,” and the Cardinal wrings his hands and advances a step or two
nearer the Queen with an air of earnest entreaty, “hear me, I implore
you. Let us not lose precious time in mere words. I have come here in a
twofold character, as your friend and as minister of state. Permit me
first to address you as the former, Madame, your counsellor and your
sincere friend.” As he speaks his voice trembles, his manner is almost
humble as he seeks to allay the stormy passions that gather on the brow
of his royal mistress.

Marie de’ Medici is so much taken aback at this unusual display of
feeling in the stern Cardinal, that though her eyes glisten with anger
she makes no reply.

“Your Majesty, in honour and greatness,” continued Richelieu, “stands
next to the throne. Be satisfied, Madame, with the second place in the
kingdom. Your own age, Madame,”--Marie starts--“and the increased
experience of his Majesty, justify you in committing the reins of
government into his hands and into the hands of such ministers as he may
appoint.”

“Yourself, for instance,” breaks in Marie bitterly.

“Madame, I implore you, by the respect and the affection I bear you, not
to interrupt me. Withdraw, graciously and cheerfully, from all
interference with state affairs. Resign your place at the council.
Dismiss those nobles who, by their rebellious conduct, excite his
Majesty’s displeasure, specially the Duc d’Epernon.”

“Never!” exclaims Marie passionately. “I will not resign my place at the
council, nor will I sacrifice my supporter, the Duc d’Epernon. My son is
incapable of governing. He has ever been the tool of those about him. I
am his best substitute. This is a miserable plot by which you basely
seek to disgrace me by my own act--to rise by my fall.”

“Oh, Madame, to whom I owe so much,” pleads Richelieu, “whom I would now
serve while I can, hear me. I speak from my heart--I speak for the last
time. Be warned, I beseech you.” His hands are still clasped, his voice
falters, tears flow down his cheeks. Any one less obstinately blind than
the Queen would have been warned by the evidence of such unusual emotion
in a man ordinarily so cold and impassible as the Cardinal.

“Ha, ha, you are an admirable actor, Cardinal!” cries she. “But what if
I refuse to listen to a traitor? Who named me[22] ‘Mother of the
kingdom?’ Who vowed to me ‘that the purple with which I invested him
would be a solemn pledge of his willingness to shed his blood in my
service’? I know you, Armand de Plessis.”

For some minutes neither utters a word. When he addresses the Queen
again, Richelieu has mastered his feelings and speaks with calmness, but
his looks express the profoundest pity.

“I am no traitor, Madame, but the unwilling bearer of a decision that
will infinitely pain you, if you drive me to announce it. But if you
will condescend to listen to my counsel, to conciliate your son the
King, and disarm his wrath by immediate submission, then that terrible
decision never need be revealed. That you should be wise in time,
Madame,” adds he, in a voice full of gentleness, contemplating her with
the utmost compassion, “is my earnest prayer.”

Before he had done speaking the Cardinal sinks on his knees at her feet,
and draws forth from his breast a paper, to which are appended the royal
seals. Marie, whose usual insolence and noisy wrath have given place to
secret fear, still clings to the hope that she is too powerful to be
dispensed with, and that by a dauntless bearing she will intimidate
Richelieu, and, through him, the King, replies coldly--

“I have given you my answer. Now you can withdraw.” Then, rising from
her chair, she turns her back upon Richelieu--who still kneels before
her--and moves forward to leave the room.

“Stay, Madame!” cries Richelieu, rising, stung to the quick by her
arrogant rejection of his sympathy, and ashamed of the unwonted emotion
the forlorn position of his royal mistress had called forth; “stay and
listen to this decree, in the name of his Majesty.” And he unfolds the
parchment. “Once more, Madame, understand. Unless you will on the
instant resign your seat in the Council of State and dismiss the Duc
d’Epernon--a man suspected of a hideous crime, which you at least,
Madame, ought never to have forgotten--from his attendance on your
person, I am commanded by his Majesty----”

“Dismiss D’Epernon!--my only trusty servant, D’Epernon, who has defended
me from your treachery!”--breaks in Marie passionately, her voice rising
higher at every word--“Never--never! Let me die first! How dare you,
Cardinal Richelieu, come hither to affront the mother of your King? I
will NOT dismiss the Duc d’Epernon. It is you who shall be
dismissed!”--and she glares upon him with fury--“despised, dishonoured,
blasted, as you deserve.”

“If you refuse, Madame--and let me implore you to reflect well before
you do,” continues the Cardinal, quite unmoved by her reproaches--“I
have his Majesty’s commands to banish you from Court, and to imprison
you during his pleasure within this palace.”[23]

No sooner has he uttered these words than the Queen, who stands facing
the Cardinal, staggers backwards. A deadly pallor overspreads her face.
She totters, tries to grasp the arm of the chair from which she has
risen, and before Richelieu, who watches her agony with eyes rather of
sorrow than of anger, can catch her, she has fallen fainting on the
floor.

At his cries the Queen’s ladies appear. He leaves her to their care, and
proceeds to the apartments of Anne of Austria, whom, through Madame de
Chevreuse, he informs of what has occurred.

Anne of Austria, on hearing that the Queen-mother was disgraced, saw in
her unfortunate mother-in-law, who had never ceased to persecute her and
to arouse the jealousy of the King, only an unhappy parent. She flew to
her, threw herself into her arms, and readily promised to employ all the
influence she possessed to mitigate the royal wrath.



CHAPTER XXXII.

LOVE AND TREASON.


Anne of Austria has left Compiègne and the royal prisoner, and is now
at Saint-Germain. The château stands upon the crest of a hill, backed by
a glorious forest that darkens the heights encircling Paris.

It is spring; the air is warm and genial, the sky mildly blue; light
clouds temper the bright sunshine that plays upon the southern façade of
the palace, and glistens among the elms which form magnificent avenues
in the surrounding park.

The King has not yet returned, and the Queen and her ladies, relieved of
his dreary presence, revel in unusual freedom. Concerts, suppers,
dances, repasts in the forest, and moonlight walks on the terrace, are
their favourite diversions. Anne of Austria has not positively forgotten
the lonely captive at Compiègne, but is too much engrossed with her own
affairs to remember more than her promise to assist her. That atmosphere
of flattery a woman loves so well and accepts as an offering exacted by
her beauty breathes around her. Monsieur Gaston, Duc d’Orléans, the
King’s only brother, is always by her side. Monsieur is gay, polished,
gallant; tall and slight like his brother, and pale-faced, but not, as
with Louis, with the pallor of disease. He has much of his mother’s
versatile nature without her violent temper. Like her he is fickle,
weak, and treacherous, incapable of any deep or stable feeling.
Monsieur talks to the Queen of Madrid, and sympathises with her
attachment to her brother, to whom Anne writes almost daily long letters
in cipher (always committed to the care of the Duchesse de Chevreuse),
notwithstanding the war between France and Spain. The chivalrous Duc de
Montmorenci, more formal and reserved than Monsieur, but equally
devoted; the Duc de Bellegarde, no longer the ideal of manly beauty dear
to the heart of poor Gabrielle d’Estrées, but grey-headed and
middle-aged, though still an ardent servant of the fair, with the
chivalric manners and soldier-like freedom of the former reign; gallant,
rough, generous Bassompierre, who was to pay so dearly by twelve years’
imprisonment in the Bastille his opposition to the Cardinal; and
Maréchal d’Ornano, the _beau sabreur_ of that day, were also in
attendance, each one the object of the King’s morbid jealousy.

Mademoiselle de Hautefort rarely leaves the Queen. She rejoices almost
more than her mistress in the King’s absence. The Duchesse de Chevreuse,
bewitching and spiteful, closely attended by the Comtes Chalais and
Louvigni, whom she plays one against the other; the Duchesse de
Montbazon, her step-mother, whose imperious eyes demand worship from all
who approach her, ever in the company of De Rancé,[24]--by-and-by to
found the order of La Trappe,--are some of the Ladies who form the
Queen’s Court.

One moonlit night the Queen and her ladies had lingered late on the
stately terrace, built by Henry IV., which borders the forest and
extends for two miles along the edge of the heights on which the
château stands. The Queen and her brother-in-law, Monsieur Duc
d’Orléans, have seated themselves somewhat apart from the rest on the
stone balustrade that fronts the steep descent into the plains around
Paris. Vineyards line the hillside, which falls rapidly towards the
Seine flowing far beneath, its swelling banks rich with groves,
orchards, villas, and gardens. Beyond, the plain lay calm and still,
wrapped in dark shadows, save where the moonbeams fall in patches and
glints of silvery light. Of the great city which spreads itself beyond,
not a vestige is to be seen. All human lights are extinguished, but the
moon rides high in the heavens in fields of azure brightness, and the
stars shine over the topmost heights, where, on the very verge of the
horizon, and facing the terrace, the towers of the Cathedral of
Saint-Denis break the dusky sky-line.

A range of hills links this far-off distance with the sombre masses of
the adjoining forest. Great masses of trees surge up black in front,
swaying hither and thither in the night breeze; the rustling of their
leaves is the only sound that breaks the silence. For a time the Queen
sits motionless.

“What a lovely night,” she says at last, as she casts her eyes out over
the broad expanse of earth and sky. “Oh, that the world could be ever as
calm and peaceful!”

A sad look comes into her eyes,--she heaves a deep sigh, throws back her
head and gazes upwards. The softened rays of the moon shine upon her
face, light up the masses of her golden hair, and play among the folds
of a long white robe which encircles her to the feet. She sits framed,
as it were, in a circle of supernatural lustre. Monsieur is beside her,
rapt in admiration. The beautiful vision before him intoxicates his
senses. The landmarks of social restriction, of tyrannous etiquette,
have vanished, gone, with the sun and the daylight. He forgets that she
is a great queen, the wife of his brother--his Sovereign; he forgets
that their attendants, though invisible, are at hand, that a glittering
palace lies hid among the woods, with its attendant multitudes; he
forgets all save that she is there before him, a dazzling presence,
sprung, as it seems, out of the darkness of the night. He gazes at her
with speechless rapture. Words which had often before trembled on his
lips must now be uttered. He is about to speak, when the Queen,
unconscious of what is passing within him, awakes from her reverie and
points to the forest.

“See, Gaston, how the moon plays upon those branches. I could almost
believe that some fantastic shapes are gliding amongst the trees. Let us
go back; the forest is horribly dark, it frightens me.” And she
shudders.

“I can see nothing but you, my sister,” answers Monsieur, softly. “You
are the very goddess of the night.” And his eyes rest on her with an
impassioned gaze.

Anne of Austria still looks fixedly into the thicket, as if fascinated
by the mystery of the great woods. Again she shudders and wraps the
light mantle she wore closer around her.

“It is late, my brother,” she says, rising. “If I stay longer I shall
have evil dreams. Let us go.”

“Oh, my sister! oh, Anne!” cries the Duke, “let us stay here for ever.”
And he caught one of the folds of her white robe, kissed it, and gently
endeavoured to draw her, again, toward the balustrade.

“By no means,” replied the Queen, startled, for the first time meeting
his eyes. “Ah, my brother,” adds she, becoming suddenly much confused,
“are you sure you do not frighten me more than the strange shapes among
the trees?”

“Trust me,” cries Monsieur ardently, retaining her robe almost by force.
“Tell me you will trust me--now, always. Ah, my sister, my heart bleeds
for you. Never, never will you find one so devoted to you as I----”

There was a certain eloquence in his words, a truth in his protestings,
that seemed to touch her. Anne flushes from head to foot.

“Monsieur--Gaston--let me go.” And she disengages herself with
difficulty. Monsieur now rose. “Where is the Duchesse de Chevreuse?”
asks Anne, not knowing what to say.

“No fear for her: she is well attended,” replies Monsieur in a voice
full of vexation. “Every one is in good luck but me. I never saw a man
so madly in love as poor Chalais, and the Duchess returns it.”

The Queen is now walking onwards at as rapid a pace as the uncertain
light permitted, along the terrace. Monsieur follows her.

“Yes--in love,”--and Anne laughs her silvery laugh; “but that is not the
way I would give my heart if I gave it at all, which I don’t think I am
tempted to do.” And she looked back archly at Monsieur, whose
countenance fell. “Chalais is one among so many,” continues the Queen,
trying to resume her usual manner. “The Duchess is very benevolent.”

“Alas, my poor Henry!” answers Monsieur, “with him it is an overwhelming
passion. Louvigni and the others admire and court the Duchess; but they
are not like Chalais--he worships her. The Duchess is a coquette who
uses him for her own purposes. She is now inciting him to head a
dangerous conspiracy against the Cardinal. Chalais has opened the matter
to me; but they go far--dangerously far. I cannot pledge myself to them
as yet.”

“Oh, Gaston!” exclaims the Queen, stopping, and laying her hand eagerly
on his arm; “if you love me as you say you do, join in any conspiracy
against the Cardinal.”

The Queen speaks with vehemence. A sudden fire shot into her eyes, as
she turns towards Monsieur. Her delicate hand still rests for an instant
upon him, and is then withdrawn.

“Fair sister,” replies the Duke, “You cannot pretend to misunderstand
me. For your service I would risk anything--how much more a tussle with
an arrogant minister, who has outraged me--as much as he has you.
Perhaps, Anne, I would risk too much for your sake.” And the enamoured
look again comes into his eyes. But the Queen draws back, and turns her
head away. “Deign to command me, sister--Queen,” he adds, “only to
command me, and I will obey.”

Anne is now walking onwards. For a few moments she does not reply.

“If you would serve me--let Richelieu be banished,” says she at last
imperiously. “I care not whither. Nothing is too bad for him. He has
dared to insult me. You, Gaston, are safe, even if you fail. My brother
will receive you at Madrid; I will take care of that.”

“I am overcome by your gracious consideration for my welfare,” cries
Monsieur, catching at her words. “But, my sister,” continues he gravely,
“do you know what this plot means? Assassination is spoken of. At this
very moment I wager my life the Duchess is employing all her seductions
to draw Chalais into a promise of stabbing the Cardinal.”

“Stabbing the Cardinal? Impossible! Chalais would not commit a crime.
You make me tremble. The Duchess told me nothing of this. She must have
lost her head.”

“I know that Chalais is fiercely jealous. He is jealous of every one who
approaches the Duchess, and we all know that the Cardinal is not
insensible to her charms----”

“Odious hypocrite!” breaks in the Queen.

“As long as Richelieu lives,” continues Monsieur, “my mother will not be
set at liberty. He dreads her influence. He knows she has a powerful
party.”

“It is infamous!” exclaims Anne of Austria.

“The Cardinal persuades the King that he alone can govern France, and
that our mother desires to depose him and appoint a regency, which I am
to share with her; that you, my sister, conspire against him with Spain.
My brother, weak, irresolute, insensible to you, believes all that is
told him. I, my mother’s only friend, dare not assist her. You, his
wife, the loveliest princess in Europe--nay, in the whole world,”--and
his kindling eyes fix themselves upon her--“he repulses. You might as
well be married to an anchorite. Thank God, his Majesty’s health is
feeble, his life very uncertain. If he dies I shall be King of France,
and then----” He pauses, as if hesitating to finish the sentence. “Ah,
my sister!” he exclaims, stopping and trying to detain her. “Had I been
blessed with such a consort I would have passed my life at her feet.
Would that even now I might do so! The dark canopy of these ancient
trees--the silence, the solitude, make all possible. Speak to me, Anne;
tell me--oh, tell me that I may hope. Do not turn away from me----”

The Queen had stopped. She stands listening to him with her face turned
towards the ground.

The moon is fast sinking behind the distant tree-tops, and the deepest
shadows of the night darken their path which had now left the terrace,
and lay beneath the trees. The wind sighs and moans in the adjoining
forest, and an owl hoots from an ivy-covered tree. For some minutes the
Queen moves not. Her whole figure is in shadow. Was she listening to the
voices of the night? or was she deeply musing on what she had heard? Who
can tell?

Some sudden resolve seemed, however, to form itself in her mind. She
roused herself, and motions to Monsieur with her hand to go onwards.
“Alas, my brother,” she says with a deep sigh, “do not press me, I
beseech you. You know not what you say. Such words are treason.” And she
hurries onwards into the gloom. “Head the conspiracy against the
Cardinal,” she continues, moving quickly forward as if afraid to hear
more; “restrain the violence of Chalais, who loves you well and will
obey you. I will temper the indiscretion of the Duchess. She is an
excellent lieutenant, inspired in her readiness of resource and
ingenuity in intrigue; but--she is a bad general. We must be careful,
Gaston, or we shall all find ourselves prisoners in the Bastille.”

“No, by Saint Paul! not so, my sister,” and Monsieur laughs gaily, for
his facile nature dwelt upon nothing long, and his thoughts had now been
diverted into other channels. “No; but we will have Richelieu there!
Bassompierre and D’Ornano are with us; they swear that they will shut
him up in an iron cage--as Louis XI. did Cardinal Balue--for life, and
feed him on bread and water. _Corps de Dieu!_ I should like to see it.”

“But I will have no blood shed,” rejoins the Queen; “remember that.”

“My sister, your word is law. When I have learnt more from Chalais, I
will inform you of every detail.”

They had now reached the château. The windows shone with light. Torches
fixed in the ground burnt round the great quadrangle, and a guard of
musketeers, assembled near the entrance, presented arms as the Queen
passed.

A page appeared, and handed a despatch to Mademoiselle de Mérigny, who
had now joined the Queen. She presented it to her Majesty. Anne broke
the seals. As she read she coloured, then laughed. “Gaston,” whispered
she, turning to Monsieur, “this is the most extraordinary coincidence.
We have been talking of the Cardinal, and here is a letter from him in
which he craves a private audience. You shall learn by-and-by what it
means.”

“_Par Dieu!_” exclaimed Monsieur, full of wonder.

“Tell no one of this but Chalais,” again whispered the Queen. Then she
lightly laid her small hand within that of Monsieur; they mounted the
grand staircase together, and passed through the long suite of the royal
apartments. All were blazing with light; on either side of the great
gallery stood the Court, ranged in two lines, waiting her Majesty’s
pleasure. As she passed, led by Monsieur, she bowed slightly, and, with
a wave of the hand, dismissed the assembly. At the door leading to her
private apartment Monsieur pressed her hand, raised it to his lips, and,
glancing at her significantly, bowed and retired.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE CARDINAL DUPED.


Anne of Austria seated herself beside a fire which burnt on the
hearth. She signed to her attendants to withdraw.

“Send hither to me the Duchesse de Chevreuse, if she has returned to the
château,” said she to one of the pages in waiting. Then Anne drew from
her bosom the letter she had just received. “It is incredible,” said
she, speaking to herself, “that he should so compromise himself! Pride
has turned his brain. Now it is my turn, Monsieur le Cardinal.” The
Duchess entered hastily. “Read, _ma belle_, read,” cried Anne, holding
out the despatch to her, “the fates favour us. Let us a lay a trap for
this wicked prelate.”

“_Ma foi_” replied the Duchess, after having reperused the letter
contained in the despatch, “even I could not have contrived it better.
Here is the Cardinal craving a private audience of your Majesty in the
absence of the King. It will be a declaration in form--such as he made
to me.”

“A declaration to me, Duchess? He would not dare----”

“Madame, he has been a soldier, and has passed his life along with a
great queen. He believes himself irresistible. Who knows if Marie de’
Medici did not tell him so?” Anne of Austria looked displeased. “Pardon
me, Madame, this saucy Cardinal, whom I call the _Court-knave_, makes me
forget myself. Your Majesty must receive him graciously.”

“Yes, he shall come,” cried Anne; “he shall come and pay for his
audacity, the hypocrite! But tell me, Duchess, tell me instantly, how
can I best revenge myself? I have a long account to settle. Shall I
command my valets, Laporte and Putange, to hide behind the arras and
beat him until he is half dead?”

“No, Madame, that would be too dangerous; he might cut off your head in
revenge, _à la reine Anne Boleyn_. We must mortify him--wound his
vanity: no vengeance equal to that with a man like the Cardinal. He is
intensely conceited, and proud of his figure. He imagines that he is
graceful and alluring--perhaps he has been told so by her Majesty--I
beg your pardon, Madame”--and the Duchess stopped and pursed up her
lips, as if she could say more but dared not.

“Did Marion de l’Orme betray him?” asked the Queen slily, “or do you
speak on your own knowledge?”

“I have it!” cried Madame de Chevreuse--not noticing the Queen’s
question--and her mischievous eyes danced with glee. “I will meet him
when he comes to-morrow, and persuade him to appear in the dress of a
Spaniard, out of compliment to you. Stay, he shall dance, too, and we
will provide a mandoline to accompany his voice. I will tell him that
you have long admired him in secret, and that if he appears in so
becoming a costume he is sure to be well received. A Spanish costume,
too, for he knows how you adore Spain, the spy--then he shall dance a
_sarabande_, a _bolero à l’Espagnol_, or sing----”

“Ha! ha! Duchess, you are _impayable_” and the Queen laughed until the
tears ran down her cheeks. “But will he be fool enough to believe you?
If he does, I will kill him with scorn, the daring Cardinal!” and Anne
of Austria drew herself up, looked into an opposite mirror, shook her
golden curls, and laughed again.

The next morning, at the hour of the Queen’s lever, the Cardinal
arrived. The Duchesse de Chevreuse met him and conducted him to a room
near the Queen’s saloon. She carefully closed the door, begged him to be
seated, and, with an air of great mystery, requested him to listen to
her before his arrival was announced to her Majesty. The Cardinal was
greatly taken aback at finding himself alone with the Duchess. She
looked so seductive; the dark tints of her luxuriant hair, hanging about
her neck and shoulders, harmonised so well with her _brunette_
complexion, her brown eyes bent smilingly upon him, her delicate robe
clinging to her tall figure, that he was almost tempted to repent his
infidelity to her, and that he had come for any other than for her.

“Your eminence is surprised to see me,” said she, smiling, and speaking
in the softest voice, and with the utmost apparent frankness, “but I am
not in the least jealous,” and she shook her finger at him.

The Cardinal reddened, and looked confused.

“Do you, then, Duchess, guess on what errand I have come?”

“Perfectly, perfectly; when I heard you had requested a private audience
in the absence of the King, I understood the rest.”

“Perhaps I have been indiscreet,” said Richelieu, and he sighed, “but I
was anxious to explain my position to the Queen. I fear that she
misconceives me; that she looks on me as her enemy; that she imagines
that I prejudice the King against her. I desire to explain my feelings
to her; they are of a mixed nature.”

“So I would suppose,” answered Madame de Chevreuse, primly, almost
bursting with suppressed laughter.

“Do you think, then, madame, that her Majesty might be induced to lay
aside her silence, her reserve? Are you authorised to admit me to her
presence?”

“I am, Cardinal.”

Richelieu’s face flushed deep, his eyes glistened.

“To a certain extent,” continued the Duchess, “the Queen is gratified by
your homage. Her Majesty has noted your slim yet manly form, your
expressive eyes. She admires your great talents.”

“Do I dream?” exclaimed Richelieu. “You, madame, are indeed magnanimous.
I feared that you might be indignant at what you might consider my
inconstancy.”

“No, Cardinal, you could not be inconstant, for you were never loved.”

Richelieu started.

“By me--I mean to say, your eminence. You really should spare me,” added
she, affectedly; “but I suppose I must speak. Anne of Austria, the
daughter of a hundred kings, the wife of your Sovereign, secretly loves
you, monseigneur. It is astonishing your extraordinary penetration never
discovered this before. Since you went into the Church you must have
grown modest; but love is blind, says the motto,” and the Duchess was
obliged to hold her handkerchief to her face to hide her laughter.

“What words of ecstacy do you utter, adorable Duchess! But you must be
aware of the coldness, the insulting scorn which the lovely Queen has
hitherto shown towards me. How could I venture to guess----”

“Ah, Cardinal, it is easy to see you are not so advanced in the art of
love as of politics. Let me advise you to read Ovid--a little of _The
Art of Love_--_pour vous remettre_. Did you learn so little, then, from
her late Majesty, Marie de’ Medici, as not to know that where most
Cupid triumphs he most conceals his wicked little person? That very
coldness and scorn you speak of are but proofs of the Queen’s passion.
But let me tell you one thing: the Queen fears you may deceive--betray
her; and you must excuse her in this, when you remember, monseigneur,
certain tales of treachery--all utterly false, of course--but then
pardon a woman’s fears. You must, to speak plainly, give her some
undoubted proof of your love.”

“Madame, you cannot doubt after what I have just heard that I can
hesitate in promising to do all and everything my royal mistress can
desire.”

The Duchess confessed afterwards to the Queen, that it was with the
utmost difficulty she could keep her countenance, so absolutely farcical
were his transports.

“Have a care what you promise,” said the Duchess to the Cardinal; “the
Queen is very _bizarre_, and perhaps may require something
impracticable.”

“Madame,” replied Richelieu, “to _me_ nothing in this realm is
impracticable; speak only her Majesty’s wishes, and I hasten to obey
them.”

“Well, then, to-night you must come at dusk to her apartments.” The
Cardinal bounded from his chair with delight. “To-night; but not in this
sombre, melancholy dress; you must wear a toilette a little _convenable_
to the part you hope to act--something brilliant, gaudy--_un pantalon
vert, par exemple_.” The Cardinal started. “At your knees little bells
must be fastened. You must have a velvet jacket, scarlet scarf, and, in
fact, all the _et cæteras_ of a Spanish dress. It will please the Queen,
and pay her a delicate compliment, to which, believe me, she will not
be insensible.”

All this time Richelieu had listened to the Duchess in an agony of
surprise and amazement. “But, madame,” said he, at length, “this is
impossible. I, a dignitary of the Church, a Cardinal. Much as I desire
to show my devotion to the Queen, she herself cannot expect from me so
strange, so extraordinary a proof----”

“Certainly, monseigneur, it is an extreme proof of your devotion, and as
such the Queen will regard it. She will be gratified, and at the same
time will be thoroughly convinced of your sincerity. However, pray do as
you please,” and the Duchess shrugged her shoulders; “I merely mention
her Majesty’s wishes; you are quite at liberty to refuse. I shall
therefore,” and she rose, “report your refusal.”

“Stop, Duchess, stop, I entreat you!” interrupted Richelieu, “you are so
precipitate! I will--I must! (But what a fearful degradation! I, the
prime minister of France, a prince of the Church, to appear in the
disguise of a mountebank!) Ah, madame, her Majesty is too hard on me;
but I adore, I worship her too much to refuse. Yes,--her wishes are my
law; I cannot, I dare not refuse. Tell the Queen, at twilight this
evening, I will present myself in her apartments.”

The Duchess waited no longer, but flew to acquaint the Queen with her
success. Neither could for a long time articulate a single syllable,
they were so overcome with laughter. Music was introduced behind the
_arras_, for the Cardinal was to be prevailed on to dance a _sarabande_.
Then they impatiently awaited the moment of his arrival. At last,
enveloped in a Spanish cloak that entirely concealed his dress, the
Cardinal entered. He was hastily rushing towards the Queen--Heaven only
knows with what intentions--when Madame de Chevreuse interposed:

“Not yet, Cardinal--not yet; you must show us your dress first, then you
must dance a _sarabande_, a _bolero_--something. Her Majesty has heard
of your accomplishments and insists on it.”

“Yes,” cried Anne of Austria, “I insist on it, monseigneur, and have
provided the music accordingly.”

The violins now struck up. Richelieu looked confounded. He was almost on
the point of rushing out, when a few words whispered to him by the
Duchess arrested him; they acted like a charm. Casting one deep,
impassioned glance at the Queen, who sat at a little distance reposing
on a couch, ravishing in beauty, her rosy lips swelling with
ill-suppressed scorn, he threw down his cloak, displaying his
extraordinary dress, bells, scarlet scarf and all, and began to
dance--yes, to dance!

Poor man! he was no longer young, and was stiff from want of practice;
so after a few clumsy _entrechats_ and _pirouettes_, he stopped. He was
quite red in the face and out of breath. He looked horribly savage for a
few moments. The music stopped also, and there was a pause. Then he
advanced towards the Queen, the little bells tinkling as he moved.

“Your Majesty must _now_ be convinced of my devotion. Deign, most
adorable Princess, to permit me to kiss that exquisite hand.”

[Illustration: CARDINAL RICHELIEU.]

The Queen listened to him in solemn silence. The Duchess leaned behind
her couch, a smile of gratified malice on her face. The Cardinal,
motionless before them, awaited her reply. Then Anne of Austria rose,
and, looking him full in the face, measured him from head to foot.
Anger, contempt, and scorn flashed in her eyes. At last she
spoke--ineffable disgust and disdain in her tone--“Your eminence is, I
rejoice to see, good for something better than a _spy_. I had hitherto
doubted it. You have diverted me immensely. But take my advice; when you
next feel inclined to pay your addresses to the Queen of France, get
yourself shut up by your friends for an old fool. Now you may go.”

Richelieu, who had gradually turned livid while the Queen spoke, waited
to hear no more. He covered himself with his cloak and rushed headlong
from the room.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE MAID OF HONOUR.


The King returns to Saint-Germain as suddenly as he had departed; he
commands a hunt in the forest at noon. The château wears an air of
unusual gaiety. The King and Queen start together from the quadrangle,
but they do not address each other. Anne, who rides on in front,
attended by Monsieur, is positively dazzling in her sunny beauty. Her
delicate cheeks are flushed with excitement. A small velvet cap, with a
heron’s plume, rests on her head, and an emerald-coloured riding-dress,
bordered with gold, sets off her rounded figure. She is followed by her
ladies, many of whom wear masks to protect their complexions. The maids
of honour are in blue, with large hats overtopped by enormous feathers.

Near them rides the King. He is much too shy to address Mademoiselle de
Hautefort before such an assemblage; but his eyes constantly follow her,
and he is infinitely gratified by the reserve of her manner towards the
young gallants of the Court. Behind him rides the Grand Falconer,
followed by the huntsmen, the _piqueur_, the whippers-in, and the
falcons, hooded and chained to the wrists of their bearers. Last come
the dogs--the sad King’s special favourites. The brilliant cavalcade
flashes among the glades, which intersect the forest in every direction.
The gaily caparisoned steeds, and their still gayer riders, the
feathers, the lace, the embroidery, flutter in and out among the
openings of the wood, and are lost in the many paths, where every turn
is so like the other, yet each marked by some special beauty. Most of
the ladies are mounted on palfreys, but some prefer litters; others are
drawn up and down in cumbrous coaches, that threaten each moment to
overturn on the gnarled roots of beech and oak that break the sward. On
the riders dash between the giant tree-trunks, unhidden by the luxuriant
foliage that masses the woods in summer--for the season is spring--and
the trees are covered with but a slight shade of green leaves just
bursting from the grey boughs. Yonder they dart under a pine-tree that
darkens the ground, its spiky branches casting forth an aromatic
perfume. Then beneath a cherry-tree, white with snowy blossoms, on among
a maze of goss and yellow broom that streak the underwood with fire.

The birds sing in the bushes, the bees buzz among the blossoms, and the
horses’ hoofs crush the tender mosses and the early flowers that carpet
the ground. At the approach of the hunters hares and rabbits run lightly
away, and timid does, with their young at their side, scamper far into
the deepest recesses of the woods. Now the bugles sound, the dogs bay
loudly; they spread themselves from side to side and disappear among the
coppice, and the whole glittering company, gilded coaches, litters and
all follow them, and dash out of sight and are hidden among the trees.

It was arranged that the hunt should lead towards a noble mansion lying
on the confines of the forest, in the direction of Bondy, where the
host, apprized of the intended honour, had prepared an ample collation.

Etiquette demanded that the King and Queen should be served apart from
the rest. After their repast was finished and their attendants had
withdrawn, the Queen approached nearer to the King. He started up and
turned towards the door. Anne followed him. The long ride in the forest
had flushed her cheeks. She looked brilliant. “Your Majesty will not
refuse to speak to me, surely,” said she in the softest tones of her
naturally sweet voice, and she raised her glorious eyes, which would
have melted any other man but Louis, beseechingly.

The King shook his head sullenly.

“What have I done that your Majesty should scorn me?” said she,
stretching out her beautiful hand with the most winning gesture to
detain him.

Louis shrank from her touch, and turned his back upon her.

“Sire, will you not at least hear me, as you would hear the least of
your subjects?” and the Queen’s eyes filled with tears and her hand
dropped to her side.

“What have you to say to me?” asked Louis harshly, not looking at her.

“When I last saw your Majesty at Compiègne,” replied she with a
faltering voice, “your mother, the Queen-dowager”--at her name Louis
shuddered--“was mistress of the palace and of France. She sat at the
royal board; she presided at the Council of State; your Majesty obeyed
and loved her as a son. She is now a prisoner--disgraced, forsaken,
ill.” The Queen’s voice became so unsteady that she was obliged to stop,
and unbidden tears rolled down her cheeks. “What has this great Queen
done to deserve your Majesty’s displeasure?” she added after a pause.

“Madame, it is no affair of yours,” answered Louis gruffly. “I refuse to
give you my reasons. I act according to the advice of my council. Do not
detain me,” and he turned again to leave the room. Anne placed herself
in front of him; her head was thrown back, her figure raised to its full
height, the tears on her eyelids were dried; she was no longer timid,
but exasperated.

“If I have ventured to intercede for the Queen-mother,” said she with
dignity, “it is because she implored me to do so. She wept upon my
bosom. Her heart was all but broken. I comforted her as a daughter. I
promised her to use such feeble powers as I had, to soften your heart,
Sire. It is a sacred pledge I am discharging.”

“You are a couple of hypocrites!” exclaimed Louis with great irritation,
facing round upon her. “You hate each other. From my mother I have freed
myself; but you--” and he surveyed her savagely from head to foot--“you,
Madame Anne of Austria, you remain.”

“Yes, I remain,” returned Anne, “until, as I am told, you crave a
dispensation from the Pope and send me back to Madrid.” These last words
were spoken slowly and with marked emphasis. “I am a childless queen,”
and she shot a bitter glance at Louis, who now stood rooted to the spot
and listened to her with an expression of speechless amazement.

“Who told you, Madame, that I sought a dispensation from the Pope, and
to send you back to Madrid?” asked Louis sharply. Then, without waiting
for an answer, he put his hand to his forehead as if some sudden thought
had struck him, knit his brows, and was lost in thought.

“I have heard so, no matter how,” answered the Queen coolly, “and on
excellent authority. Sire,” she cried passionately, no longer able to
restrain her feelings, “you use me too ill--rather than suffer as I do I
will leave France for ever; I will not bear the mockery of being called
your wife--I would rather bury myself in a convent at Madrid.”

Louis was so completely abstracted, that although he had asked her a
question, he had forgotten to listen to her reply. Now he caught at her
last word.

“Madrid? Yes, Madame, I believe it. Your heart is there. I know it but
too well. Would you had never left Madrid! Ever since you came into
France you have desired my death that you might wed a comelier consort.”

Louis could scarcely articulate, so violently was he excited. Anne did
not stir, only her glowing eyes followed, as it were, each word he
uttered.

“You talk of the Queen-mother, do you know that she warned me long ago
that you were dishonouring me?”

“Oh, Sire, if you forget who I am,” exclaimed the Queen, “remember at
least that I am a woman!” and she burst into tears, and for a few
moments sobbed bitterly.

“Can you deny it, Madame,” continued the King, with rising fury, his
mouth twitching nervously, as was his wont when much agitated--“can you
deny it? Am I not become a jest among my own courtiers? You, the Queen
of France, openly encourage the addresses of many lovers. You are
wanting, Madame, even in the decency of the reserve becoming your high
station,” and Louis clenched his fist with rage.

“I deny what you say,” returned the Queen boldly; “I have discoursed
with no man to the dishonour of your Majesty.” She was trembling
violently, but she spoke firmly and with dignity. “If I am wanting in
concealment,” added she, “it is because I have nothing to conceal.”

“I do not believe you,” answered the King rudely.

“No, Sire, you do not, because you are my enemy. Your mind is poisoned
against me. You encourage the lies of Richelieu, you slander me to my
own attendants. Worse than all, you dare to couple my name with that of
the Duc d’Orléans, your own brother. It is a gross calumny.”

Her voice rose as she spoke; the power of truth and innocence was in her
look--it was impossible not to believe her. For an instant the King’s
suspicions seemed shaken. He followed eagerly every word she uttered;
but at the name of Monsieur a livid paleness overspread his face; for a
moment he looked as if he would have swooned. Then recovering himself
somewhat he came close up to her, and with a wild look he scanned her
curiously, as though to read some answer to his suspicions. “Who can
have told her? who can have told her?” he muttered half aloud--“a secret
of state too. It is not possible that--” The last words were spoken so
low that they were lost. Louis was evidently struggling with some
painful but overwhelming conviction. His head sunk on his breast. Again
he became lost in thought. Then, looking up, he saw that the Queen was
watching him. She was waiting for him to speak. This awakened him
suddenly to a consciousness of what was passing, and his anger burst
forth afresh.

“You say I am your enemy--yes, I am, and with reason. Are you not
devoted to the interests of Spain, now at war with France? Do you not
betray me in letters to your brother? Answer me.” It was now the Queen’s
turn to falter and turn pale. The King perceived it. “I have you there,
Madame Anne; I have you there;” and he laughed vindictively. “My life is
not safe beside you. Like my great father, I shall die by an assassin
whose hand will be directed by my wife!” A cold shiver passed over him.
“Richelieu has proofs. _Vrai Dieu_, Madame, he has proofs. It is
possible,” he added, with a sardonic smile, which made him look ghastly,
“that you may return to Madrid sooner than you imagine--you and the
Duchesse de Chevreuse, your accomplice.”

“Not sooner than I desire, Sire, after your unworthy treatment,”
exclaimed Anne, proudly, her anger overcoming her fears that her letters
might have been really deciphered. “I come of a race that cannot brook
insult; but I can bear disgrace.”

Louis, who felt that the Queen was getting the better of him, grew
furious--“I will have no more words, Madame,” shouted he; “we will deal
with facts. I shall appeal to my minister and to my council. For myself,
I am not fit to govern,” he added, in an altered voice, and with the
forlorn air of a man who cannot help himself.

“Speak not to me, Sire, of Richelieu and the council over which he
presides,” cried Anne, goaded beyond endurance. “Richelieu is a traitor,
a hypocrite, a libertine--not even his sovereign’s wife is sacred to
him!”

“Ah, Madame, it is natural that you and Richelieu should disagree,”
retorted the King, with an incredulous sneer. “He is a match for you and
for the Duchess your counsellor--the Duchess whose life disgraces my
Court.”

Anne had now thrown herself into a chair, her hands were crossed on her
bosom, her eyes bent steadily on the King, as if prepared for whatever
fresh extravagance he might utter. Even the enraged Louis felt the
influence of her fixed, stern gaze. He ceased speaking, grew suddenly
confused, paced up and down hurriedly, stopped, essayed again to address
her--then abruptly strode out of the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Queen and her ladies are seated on a stone balcony that overlooks
the parterre and the park of Saint-Germain. Below, the King’s violins
are playing some music of his composition, set to words in praise of
friendship, full of covert allusions to Mademoiselle de Hautefort. The
Queen’s fair young face is clouded with care; she leans back listlessly
in her chair, and takes no heed of the music or of what is passing
around her. The Chevalier de Jars approaches her. There is something in
his air that alarms her; she signs to him to place himself beside her.

Mademoiselle de Hautefort, conscious that every one is watching the
effect of the music and the words upon her, sits apart at the farther
end of the gallery, from which the balcony projects, almost concealed
from view. A door near her opens noiselessly, and the King puts in his
head. He peers round cautiously, sees that no one has perceived him, and
that Mademoiselle de Hautefort is alone, then he creeps in and seats
himself by her side. He looks saddened and perplexed.

“Why do you shun me?” he asks, abruptly.

“You have been absent, Sire.”

“Did you miss me?” His voice sounds so strange and hollow that
Mademoiselle de Hautefort looks up into his face. Something has
happened; what could it be? Some misfortune to the Queen is always her
first thought. Before she can reply, Louis sighs profoundly, so
profoundly that he almost groans, contemplating her, at the same time,
with looks of inexpressible sorrow. “Alas!” exclaims he at last, “I had
hoped so much from this interview when we parted at Fontainebleau; I
have lived upon the thought, and now--my dream is ended; all is over!”
The maid of honour grows alarmed: either he is gone mad, she thinks, or
something dreadful has happened.

“I cannot conceive what you mean, Sire?” she replies, not knowing what
to say.

“Are you, too, false?” he continues, “with those eyes so full of truth?
Yet it must be you, it can be no other. False like the rest; a devil
with an angel’s face!” The maid of honour is more and more amazed. “Yet
I trusted you; with my whole heart I trusted you,” and he turns to her
with a piteous expression, and wrings his hands. “I unfolded to you my
forlorn and desolate condition. It might have touched you. Tell me,” he
continues, in a tone of anguish, “tell me the truth; was it you who
betrayed me?”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort is terribly confused. She understands now what
the King means; a mortal terror seizes her; what shall she say to him?
She is too conscientious to deny point-blank that she has told his
secret, so she replies evasively, “that she is his Majesty’s faithful
servant.”

“But, speak,” insists the King, “give me a plain

[Illustration: CHÂTEAU OF NANTES.]

answer. How does the Queen know a state secret, that I confided to you
alone, that I even whispered in your ear?”

“Sire, I--I do not know,” falters the maid of honour.

“Swear to me, mademoiselle, that you have not betrayed me to the Queen;
swear, and I will believe you. _Pardieu!_ I will believe you even if it
is not true!” Louis’s eyes shine with hidden fire; his slight frame
quivers.

Mademoiselle de Hautefort, trembling for her mistress, with difficulty
controls herself. “Your Majesty must judge me as you please,” she
replies, struggling to speak with unconcern. “I call God to witness I
have been faithful to my trust.”

“I would fain believe it,” replies the King, watching her in painful
suspense; he seems to wait for some further justification, but not
another syllable passes her lips. Still the King lingers; his looks are
riveted upon her.

At this moment the music ceases. The maid of honour starts up, for the
Queen has left the balcony. The King had vanished.

Anne of Austria, quitting those around her, advances alone to the spot
where Mademoiselle de Hautefort had been talking with the King. “I am
going at once to the Val de Grâce,” she whispers in great agitation.

“Indeed, Madame; so suddenly?”

“Yes, at once. I have just heard from the Chevalier de Jars that Chalais
is arrested at Nantes. He accuses me and the Duchesse de Chevreuse of
conspiring with him. Richelieu meditates some _coup de main_ against
me. I shall be safe at the Val de Grâce. You and the Duchess will
accompany me. Here is a letter I have written in pencil to my brother;
it is most important. I dare not carry it about me; take care to deliver
it yourself to Laporte.”

The Queen drew from her pocket a letter, placed it in the maid of
honour’s hand, and hastened back to rejoin the company. Mademoiselle was
about to follow her, when Louis suddenly rose up before her, and barred
her advance.

“Mademoiselle de Hautefort,” he said, “I have heard all. I was concealed
behind that curtain. Give me that letter, written by my wife, I command
you.”

“Never, Sire, never!” and Mademoiselle de Hautefort crushed the letter
in her hand.

“How--dare you refuse me? Give it to me instantly!” and he tried to tear
it from her grasp. She eluded him, retreated a few steps, and paused for
a moment to think, then, as if a sudden inspiration had struck her, she
opened the lace kerchief which covered her neck, thrust the letter into
her bosom, and exclaimed:--

“Here it is, Sire; come and take it!”

With outstretched arms she stood before him; her cheeks aglow with
blushes, her bosom wildly heaving. Wistfully he regarded her for a
moment, then thrust out his hand to seize the letter, plainly visible
beneath the gauzy covering. One glance from her flashing eye, and the
King, crimson to the temples, drew back; irresistibly impelled, he
advanced again and once more retreated, then with a look of baffled fury
shouted, “Now I _know_ you are a traitress!” and rushed from the
gallery.



CHAPTER XXXV.

AT VAL DE GRÂCE.


The ancient Benedictine abbey of the Val Profond, near Bièvre le Châlet,
three leagues from Paris, was founded by Robert, son of Hugh Capet. Soon
after her arrival in France, Anne of Austria bought the ground upon
which the then ruined abbey stood, moved the nuns to Paris, and placed
them in a convent called the Val de Grâce,[25] under the Mont Parnasse,
near the Luxembourg Gardens. To this convent of the Val de Grâce the
Queen often resorted to seek in prayer and meditation (for she was
eminently pious), consolation and repose. On these occasions she
occupied a suite of rooms specially set apart for her use.

It is a bright morning, and the sunshine streams through the painted
windows, and streaks the marble floor of the Queen’s oratory with
chequered colours. To the east, under a lofty window, stands an altar,
covered with a costly cloth, on which, in golden sconces, burn many
votive candles. Anne of Austria is seated in a recess, on a carved chair
of dark oak. She is dressed in black, her golden curls are gathered
under a sober coif; she looks pale, and ill at ease; her eyes, dulled by
want of sleep, are anxious and restless, but there is a resolution in
her bearing that shows she is prepared to meet whatever calamity awaits
her with the courage of her race. Mademoiselle de Hautefort sits on a
low stool at her feet. She is weeping bitterly.

“Ah! Madame,” she sobs, “this is Richelieu’s revenge. It is all his
doing. How could your Majesty listen to the advice of that wild Duchess,
and affront him so cruelly at Saint-Germain? Alas! he will persecute you
as long as he lives.”

“I cannot recall the past,” answers Anne sadly.

“Had you reposed confidence in me, Madame, this would never have
happened. Madame de Chevreuse has sacrificed you to her love of
intrigue.”

“My poor Chevreuse, she is no more to blame than I am. Where is the
Duchess, mademoiselle?”

While the Queen speaks a sound of wheels entering the courtyard from the
street of Saint-Jacques breaks the silence. A moment after Madame de
Chevreuse rushes into the oratory, so hidden in a black hood and a long
cloak that no one would have recognised her. She flings herself on her
knees before the Queen, and grasps her hands.

“Ah, my dear mistress, you are saved!” she cries, breathlessly. Anne
raises her and kisses her tenderly. “I am just come from the Bastille. I
went there disguised as a priest. I have seen Chalais. The Cardinal
interpreted what Chalais said--purposely, of course--into meaning an
attempt upon the life of the King.”

“Great God!” exclaims Anne, turning her glistening eyes to heaven, “what
wickedness!”

“The King has joined the Cardinal in a purpose to prosecute your Majesty
for treason. His Majesty is furious. He declares that he will repudiate
you, and send you back into Spain. He has commanded the Chancellor
Séguier and the Archbishop of Paris to repair here to the convent of the
Val de Grâce to search your private papers for proofs of your guilt and
of your treasonable intrigues with Spain. They are close at hand. I
feared lest they had already arrived before I could return and apprise
your Majesty.”

“But what of Chalais?” cries Anne. “Why did you visit him in the
Bastille?”

“To learn what had passed between him and the Cardinal. We must all tell
the same story. Chalais confesses to me that, in the confusion of his
arrest at Nantes, he did let fall some expressions connecting your
Majesty, Monsieur, and myself with the plot against Richelieu, and that
when questioned he avowed that he acted with your knowledge.”

“Ah, the coward!” cries Mademoiselle de Hautefort bitterly. “And you
love him.”

“No, mademoiselle, Chalais is no coward. He is a noble gentleman, whose
fortitude will yet save her Majesty. He has been betrayed by Louvigni,
the traitor, out of jealousy. Do not interrupt me, mademoiselle,”
continues the Duchess, seeing that Mademoiselle de Hautefort is again
about to break forth into reproaches against Chalais. “No sooner had
Chalais arrived at the Bastille than Richelieu visited him in his cell.
He offered him his life if he would consent to inculpate your Majesty in
the plot. Chalais refused, and declared that the plot of which you were
informed by Monsieur the Duc d’Orléans, was directed against himself;
and he told the Cardinal he might tear him in pieces with wild horses
before he would say one word to your Majesty’s prejudice.”

“Generous Chalais!” exclaims the Queen, clasping her hands. “Can he not
be saved?”

“No, Madame, my noble friend must die. He knows it, and places his life
at your feet.”

Anne sobs violently.

“Horrible! Oh, that I should cost those who love me so dear! Proceed,
Duchess.”

“The Cardinal had in the meantime, as soon as your Majesty left
Saint-Germain, sent to force your drawers and cabinets for papers.” Anne
rises to her feet, white with terror. “Never fear, Madame; I had thought
of that. Laporte had destroyed everything by my order. Only one letter
to your brother the King of Spain was found. It was written the day you
left, and confided by you, Mademoiselle de Hautefort, to Laporte,” and
the Duchess gives a spiteful glance at the maid of honour. “Before he
despatched it, Laporte was seized and searched.”

“There was nothing in that letter derogatory to me as Queen of France,”
says the Queen quickly. “I spoke of Richelieu’s insane passion for me,
and described the scene at Saint-Germain, and I told him I was about to
leave for the Val de Grâce; nothing more. The Cardinal will not show
that letter.”

“Yes, Madame, God be praised! it is so. But it was absolutely necessary
that I should tell Chalais that but one letter had been found, and that
perfectly innocent, before he was examined by the Cardinal. I have told
him. He knows he can save his Queen. He is content to die!” As the
Duchess speaks, the sound of wheels again interrupts them. “Hark! The
Chancellor and the Archbishop have arrived. Courage, your Majesty! All
now depends on your presence of mind. Nothing will be found in this
convent, and Laporte waits at the door without. He will suffer no one to
enter.”

Anne flings herself into the arms of the Duchess.

“You have saved me!” she cries, and covers her with kisses.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour has passed. Laporte knocks at the door, and enters. His looks
betray the alarm he tries to conceal.

“The Chancellor, Madame, has arrived, in company with the Archbishop of
Paris,” he says, addressing the Queen. “The Archbishop has commanded the
Abbess, the venerable Louise de Milli, and all the sisterhood, who went
out to meet him, to return each one within her cell, and not to exchange
a single word together during the time he remains in the convent, under
pain of excommunication.” The Queen and the Duchess exchange anxious
glances. Laporte speaks again with much hesitation, “I regret to say
that the Chancellor then proceeded to search all the cells. No papers
were found.” The Duchess clasps her hands with exultation. “How can I go
on?” Laporte groans, the tears coming into his eyes. “Forgive me,
Madame; I cannot help it.” The Queen makes an impatient gesture, and
Laporte continues: “The Chancellor craves your Majesty’s pardon, but
desires me to tell you that he bears a royal warrant, which he must
obey, to search your private apartment, and this oratory also.”

“Let him have every facility, my good Laporte,” answers the Queen
collectedly. “Mademoiselle de Hautefort, deliver up all my keys to
Laporte.”

“The Chancellor and the Archbishop desire to speak also to the
lady-in-waiting on your Majesty, the Duchesse de Chevreuse,” Laporte
adds.

“What new misfortune is this?” cries Anne of Austria, turning very pale.
“Go, dear Duchess; all is not yet over, I fear.”

Madame de Chevreuse leaves the oratory with Laporte. The Queen casts
herself on her knees before the sacred relics exposed on the altar. She
hides her face in her hands.

It is not long before the Duchess returns. Her triumphant air has
vanished. She tries to appear unconcerned, but cannot. Anne rises from
her knees, and looks at her in silence.

“Speak, Madame de Chevreuse; I can bear it,” she says meekly.

“Alas! my dear mistress, Richelieu’s vengeance is not yet complete. The
Chancellor has announced to me that a Council of State is about to
assemble in the refectory of the convent. You are summoned to appear, to
answer personally certain matters laid to your charge.”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort utters a loud scream. The Queen, her eyes
riveted on the Duchess, neither moves nor speaks for some moments.

“You have more to say. Speak, Duchess,” she says at last in a low voice.

“Nothing whatever has been found--no line, no paper. I took care of
that,” and the Duchess smiles faintly.

“You have not yet told me all. I must hear it. Conceal nothing,” again
insists the Queen.

“Alas! it is indeed as you say. The Chancellor”--and her voice falls
almost to a whisper--“has express orders under the King’s hand to search
your Majesty’s _person_.”

“Search an anointed Queen!” exclaims Anne of Austria. “Never!” and she
stretches out her arms wildly towards the altar. “Holy Virgin, help me!”
she cries.

At this moment the sound of many footsteps is heard without in the stone
passage, approaching the door. Anne of Austria has risen; she stands in
the centre of the oratory; an unwonted fire glows in her eyes, a look of
unmistakable command spreads itself over her whole person. Never had she
looked more royal than in this moment of extreme humiliation. The
Duchess rushes to the door and draws the ponderous bolts. “Now let them
come,” cries she, “if they dare!” They all listen in breathless silence.
The voice of Laporte, who has returned to his post outside the door, is
heard in low but angry altercation. Then he is heard to say, in a loud
voice--

“No one can be admitted to her Majesty, save only the King, without her
permission.”

“We command you in the name of the law. Stand aside!” is the reply.

Then another voice speaks:--

“We are the bearers of an order from the King and the Council of State
to see her Majesty.” It is the Chancellor’s voice, and his words are
distinctly audible within.

“I know of no order but from the Queen my mistress. Your Grace shall not
pass. If you do, it shall be across my body,” Laporte is heard to
reply.

“We enter our solemn protest against this breach of the law; but we
decline to force her Majesty’s pleasure.” It was still the Chancellor
who spoke. Then the sound of receding footsteps told that he was gone.

“Where will this end?” asks Anne in a hollow voice, sinking into a
chair.

The Duchess and Mademoiselle de Hautefort fling their arms round her.

“Bear up, Madame, the worst is over. Be only firm; they can prove
nothing,” whispers the Duchess. “There is not a tittle of evidence
against you.”

“Ah, but, my friend, you forget that the King is eager to repudiate me.
Mademoiselle de Hautefort knows it from his own lips.”

“He cannot, without proofs of your guilt,” the Duchess answers
resolutely. “There are none. And if he does, _qu’importe_? Why mar that
queenly brow with sorrow, and wrinkle those delicate cheeks with tears?
Be like me, Madame, a citizen of the world--Madrid, Paris, London--what
matters? The sun shines as brightly in other lands as here. Life and
love are everywhere. You are young, beautiful, courageous. To see you is
to love you. Swords will start from their scabbards to defend you. Your
exile in your brother’s Court will be a triumph. You will rule all
hearts; you will still be the sovereign of youth, of poetry, and of
song!”

As she speaks the Duchess’s countenance beams with enthusiasm. Anne of
Austria shakes her head sorrowfully, and is silent.

“You are happy, Duchess, in such volatile spirits,” says Mademoiselle de
Hautefort contemptuously, her eyes all the while fixed on her royal
mistress; “but I cannot look on the disgrace of the Queen of France as
though it were the finale to a page’s roundelay.”

The sound of many heavy coaches thundering into the inner court of the
convent puts a stop to further conversation.

“The council is assembling!” exclaims the Duchess.

At these words the Queen rises mechanically; her large eyes, dilated and
widely open, are fixed on vacancy, as though the vision of some unspoken
horror, some awful disaster, had risen before her. She knows it is the
crisis of her life. From that chamber she may pass to banishment,
prison, or death. For a moment her mind wanders. She looks round wildly.
“Spare me! spare me!” she murmurs, and she wrings her hands. “Alas! I am
too young to die!” Then collecting her scattered senses, she moves
forward with measured steps. “I am ready,” she says, in a hollow voice.
“Unbar the door.”



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE QUEEN BEFORE THE COUNCIL.


The refectory of the convent of the Val de Grâce is a vast apartment,
dimly lit by rows of small lancet windows placed along the side walls.
These walls are bare, panelled with dark wood; great oaken rafters span
the tented roof. At the eastern end hangs a large crucifix of silver.
In the centre is a table, round which the three principal members of the
council are assembled. Alone, at the head, is the King, uneasily seated
on the corner of a huge chair. His whole body is shrunk and contracted,
as though he were undergoing some agonising penance. He never raises his
eyes; his pallid face works with nervous excitement. His hat is drawn
over his brow; his hands are clasped upon his knees. That he had come in
haste is apparent, for he wears his usual dark hunting-dress.

At his right hand is the Cardinal, wearing a long tightly fitting
_soutane_ of purple silk, with a cloak of the same colour. His
countenance is perfectly impassive, save that when he moves, and the
light from above strikes upon his dark eyes, they glitter. In his
delicate hands he holds some papers, to which he refers from time to
time: others lie on the table near him. Opposite the Cardinal are the
Archbishop of Paris and the Chancellor Séguier. At the farther end of
the council-table, facing the King, Anne of Austria is seated. The
colour comes and goes upon her downy cheeks; but otherwise no sovereign
throned in fabled state is more queenly than this golden-haired daughter
of the Cæsars.

The Cardinal turns towards her, but, before addressing her, his eyes are
gathered fixedly upon her. Then, in a placid voice, he speaks--

“Your Majesty has been summoned by the King here present to answer
certain matters laid to your charge.”

Anne of Austria rises and makes an obeisance, looking towards the King,
then reseats herself.

“I am here to answer whatever questions his Majesty sees good to put to
me,” she replies, in a clear, firm voice.

“His Majesty, Madame, speaks through _my_ voice,” answers Richelieu,
significantly, observing her pointed reference to the King’s presence;
“I am here as his _alter ego_. It is said,” he continues, in the same
impassive manner in which he had at first addressed her, “that you,
Madame Anne of Austria, consort of the King, hold a treasonable
correspondence in cipher with your brother, Philip, King of Spain, now
waging war against this realm of France, and that therein you betray to
him secrets of state to the manifest hurt and danger of the King’s
armies, by affording treacherous foreknowledge of their movements and of
the measures of his Government. What answer does your Majesty make to so
grave a charge?”

“If it be so, let these letters be produced,” answers the Queen boldly.
“I declare that beyond the natural love I bear my brother and his
consort, Elizabeth of France, sister to the King,--which love surely is
no crime,--I have never, by word or deed, betrayed aught that I might
know to the prejudice of the King, my husband, or of this great country
of which I am the Queen.”

“Why, then, Madame, if these letters were harmless did you write in a
cipher unknown to the King’s ministers?” asks the Cardinal, bending his
piercing eyes keenly upon her.

“Because,” replies the Queen, “I knew that spies were set, by the King’s
order, at _your_ instance,” and she points to the Cardinal, “to waylay
these letters, the writing of which has been to me, next to God, my
greatest comfort in much sorrow and persecution which I have suffered
wrongfully since I came into France.”

“Madame,” continues Richelieu, speaking with the same unmoved voice and
manner, “do you know Henry de Talleyrand, Comte de Chalais, Master of
the Robes to his Majesty, and once esteemed by him as his faithful
subject?”

“I do know him,” answers the Queen.

“Do you know also that this gentleman, the Comte de Chalais, has been
lately arrested at Nantes, and is now lying in the prison of the
Bastille, accused of having treacherously conspired against the sacred
person of his Majesty, with the design of placing on the throne, at his
death, Monseigneur, Duc d’Orléans--brother of the King; and that the
Comte de Chalais avers and declares, before witnesses, that he acted by
your order and by your counsel? What answer have you to make to this,
Madame?”

“That it is false, and unsupported by any evidence whatever, and that
you, Cardinal Richelieu, know that it is false.” Then Anne of Austria
raises her hands towards the crucifix hanging before her--“By the
blessed wounds of our Lord Jesus, I swear that I never knew that the
life of the King, my husband, was threatened; if it were so, it was
concealed from me.” A stifled groan is heard from the King. Both the
Chancellor and the Archbishop appear greatly impressed by the Queen’s
solemn declaration, and whisper together. Richelieu alone is unmoved.

Then the Queen rises, and for the first time, turns her large eyes full
upon the Cardinal, over whose frame a momentary tremor passes. “It was
of another plot that the Comte de Chalais spoke; and of another
assassination, not that of the King. His Majesty himself--if I mistake
not--knew and did not disapprove of _this other_ project, and of
removing _him_ whom I mean. Nevertheless I shrank from the proposal with
horror; I expressly forbade all bloodshed, although it would have
removed a deadly enemy from my path.” And the Queen, while she speaks,
fixes her undaunted gaze full on the Cardinal, who casts down his eyes
on the papers he holds in his hands. “Let his Majesty confront me with
Chalais; he will confirm the truth of what I say.” Anne of Austria stops
to watch the effect of her words. Something like a groan again escapes
from the King; he pulls at his beard, and moves uneasily in his chair,
as the Cardinal’s lynx eyes are directed, for an instant, towards him
with a malignant glare. The Cardinal stoops to consult some documents
that lie upon the table, and for a few moments not a word was uttered.
Then resuming his former placid voice and manner, Richelieu faces the
Queen, and proceeds:--

“Further, Madame, it is averred, and it is believed by his Majesty, that
you, forgetting the duty of a wife, and the loyalty of a Queen, have
exchanged love-tokens with the said prince of the blood, Gaston, Duc
d’Orléans, now for his manifest treason fled into Spain,”--at these
words, to which she listens with evident horror, Anne clasps her
hands;--“further, that you, Madame, and your lady of the bedchamber,
Marie de Lorraine, Duchesse de Chevreuse, did conspire, with Chalais and
others, for this unholy purpose.”

Anne’s face is suffused with a deep blush of shame while the Cardinal
speaks; for a moment her courage seems to fail her--then, collecting
herself, she stretches out her arms towards the King, and says solemnly,
“I call on his Majesty, Louis--surnamed the Just--my husband, to
confront me with my accusers: I am innocent of this foul charge.”

At this appeal the King half rises, as if with an intention to speak,
then sinks back again into his chair. His features twitch convulsively;
he never raises his eyes.

“Is that all you have to reply to the wicked and murderous project said
to be entertained by you of wedding, _from inclination_, with the King’s
brother, at his death, if by feeble health, or any other accident, his
Majesty had been removed?” and the Cardinal bends his glassy eyes
earnestly upon the Queen.

“I reply that I should have gained nothing by the change. The Duc
d’Orléans is as fickle and unworthy as his Majesty, who sits by unmoved,
and hears his consort slandered by her enemies.” Anne’s eyes flash fire;
her indignation had carried her beyond fear; she stands before the
council more like a judge than a criminal. “Have a care, Armand de
Plessis, Cardinal Minister and _tyrant_ of France, that you question me
not too closely,” the Queen adds in a lower voice, addressing herself
directly to Richelieu. As she speaks she puts her hand to her bosom, and
discloses, between the folds of her dark velvet robe a portion of a
letter, bound with purple cord, which Richelieu instantly recognises as
the identical one he had addressed to her at Saint-Germain, asking for a
private audience. The Cardinal visibly shudders; his whole expression
changes; his impassive look is turned to one of anxiety and doubt; he
passes his hands over his forehead, as if to shade his eyes from the
light, but in reality to give his fertile brain a few moments’ time in
which to devise some escape from the danger that threatens him should
the Queen produce that letter before the council. So rapid has been the
Queen’s action that no one else has perceived it. Something peculiar,
however, in the tone of her voice attracts the notice of the King, who,
rousing himself from the painful abstraction into which he has fallen,
gazes round for the first time, and bends his lustreless grey eyes
suspiciously on the Cardinal, and from him on the Queen; then shaking
his head doubtfully, he again resumes his former weary attitude.
Meanwhile the Queen, imagining that she perceives some compassion in
that momentary glance, rises and advances close to the edge of the
council-table. Grief, anger, and reproach are in her looks. With a
haughty gesture she signs to the Cardinal to be silent, clasps her small
hands so tightly that the nails redden her tender skin, and, in a
plaintive voice, addresses herself directly to the King. “Oh, Sire, is
not your heart moved with pity to behold a great princess, such as I,
your wife, and who might have been the mother of your children, stand
before you here like a criminal, to suffer the scorn and malice of her
enemies?”--she is so overcome that her voice falters, and she hastily
brushes the starting tears from her eyes. “I know,” she continues, with
her appealing eyes resting on the King, “I know that you are weary of
me, and that your purpose is, if possible, to repudiate me and send me
back into Spain; you have confessed as much to one of my maids of
honour, who, shocked at the proposal, repeated it to me. I appeal to
yourself, Sire, if this be not true?” and laying one hand on the table
she leans forward towards Louis, waiting for his reply; but, although he
does not answer her appeal, he whispers a few words into the ear of the
Archbishop, standing next to him, who bows. Then he falls back on his
chair, as if weary and exhausted by a hopeless struggle. “My lords, the
King cannot deny it,” says Anne of Austria triumphantly, addressing the
council; “My lords, I have never, since I came into France, a girl of
fifteen, been permitted to occupy my legitimate place in his Majesty’s
affections. The Queen-dowager, Marie de’ Medici, poisoned his mind
against me; and now Cardinal Richelieu, _her creature_,”--and Anne casts
a look of ineffable disdain at Richelieu--“continues the same policy,
because he dreads my influence, and desires wholly to possess himself of
the King’s confidence, the better to rule him and France.”

The Queen’s bold words had greatly impressed the council in her favour.
The Archbishop and the Chancellor consult anxiously together. At length
the Archbishop of Paris interposes.

“Her Majesty the Queen appears to have explained most satisfactorily all
the accusations made against her. I was myself present at the
examination of her private apartments within this convent of the Val de
Grâce. Nothing was found but proofs of her pious sentiments and devout
exercises, such as scourges, girdles spiked with iron to mortify the
flesh, books of devotion and missals. It is to be desired that all royal
ladies could disarm suspicion like her Majesty. If, therefore, the
evidence which the Cardinal holds be in accordance with her Majesty’s
declarations, all the charges may be withdrawn, and her Majesty be
returned to those royal dignities and honours which she so fitly adorns.
Speak, Cardinal Richelieu, do you hold counter evidence--yea, or nay?”

The Cardinal does not at once answer. He shuffles some papers in his
hands, then turns towards the King, and whispers in his ear. Louis makes
an impatient gesture of assent, and resumes his despondent attitude.

“I have his Majesty’s commands for replying,” answers Richelieu, “that
no letters implicating the Queen in treasonable correspondence with her
brother have been at present actually found, although his Majesty has
reason to believe that such exist. Also that the Count de Chalais’s
statements are in accord with those of her Majesty. Also that the King
acquits Madame Anne, his consort, of the purpose of marrying with his
brother, Monsieur Duc d’Orléans, on whom _alone_ must rest the onus of
such a crime. Usher of the court, summon the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting
to attend her. Your Majesty is free,” adds Richelieu, and the mocking
tone of his voice betrays involuntarily something of the inward rage he
labours to conceal. “Madame Anne of Austria, you are no longer a
prisoner of state under examination by the council, but are, as before,
in full possession of the privileges, powers, immunities, and revenues
belonging to the Queen Consort of France.”

Anne of Austria leaves her chair, salutes his Majesty with a profound
obeisance, of which Louis takes no other notice than to turn his eyes to
the ceiling, and then advances towards the door. The Chancellor and the
Archbishop rise at the same time from the council-table, and hasten to
open the door by which she is to pass out, bowing humbly before her.

“The royal carriages are in waiting, Madame,” whispered the Duchesse de
Chevreuse, who, with Mademoiselle de Hautefort, was waiting outside; and
she wrung the Queen’s hand. “My dear, dear mistress, I know you are
free!”

“Praised be God!” replied Anne, “I have escaped,” and she kissed her on
both cheeks, as also her maid of honour, who was so overcome she could
not say one word of congratulation.

“Come, Madame,” cried the Duchesse de Chevreuse, “let us leave this
dreadful place, I beseech you, lest the Cardinal should concoct some
fresh plot to detain you.”

“Duchess,” replied Anne gaily, “you shall command me. It is to you I owe
my liberty. But for your forethought those unhappy letters, wrung from
me in moments of anguish--ah! of despair, would have been found, and I
should at this moment have been on my way to the Bastille. My good
Hautefort, you have not spoken to me. You look sad. What is it?” and the
Queen took her hand.

“It is because I have contributed nothing towards your Majesty’s
freedom. Besides, a foreboding of coming evil overpowers me,” and she
burst into tears.

She again kissed her, and led her by the hand towards the cumbrous coach
which was to bear her to Paris. As Anne was preparing to mount into it,
assisted by her page and Laporte, who had reappeared, the Chevalier de
Jars approached hastily, and bowed before her.

“How now, Chevalier! any more ill news? What is your business here?”
asked Anne.

“It is with this lady,” said he, turning to the maid of honour.
“Mademoiselle de Hautefort, you cannot accompany her Majesty to Paris.”

“Why, Chevalier?” demanded Anne impatiently, still holding her hand.

“Because I am commanded to make known to you that Mademoiselle de
Hautefort is exiled from France during his Majesty’s pleasure. I am
charged, mademoiselle, to show you this token,” and he produced the
other half of the golden medallion which Louis had broken during their
interview at Fontainebleau. “The King bid me say that by this token he
himself commands your instant departure.”

The Queen clasped her in her arms.

“My poor Hautefort, is it indeed so? Must I lose my trusty friend?”

Mademoiselle de Hautefort threw herself, weeping bitterly, at the
Queen’s feet.

“Alas! Madame,” sobbed she, “I am banished because I have been faithful
to you!”

“Have you got another order--for my arrest, _par exemple_, Chevalier?”
asked the Duchess archly. “I have also committed the awful crime of
faithfulness to her Majesty. I suppose I shall go next.”

The Chevalier shook his head.

“No, madame. You will accompany the Queen to the Louvre.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Duchesse de Chevreuse did accompany the Queen to the Louvre; but, on
arriving there, she found a _lettre de cachet_ banishing her from France
within twenty-four hours. A similar order was also served on the
Chevalier de Jars.

The Queen was free, but her friends were exiled.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

LOUISE DE LAFAYETTE.


Louise de Lafayette--the only child of Comte Jean de Lafayette, of
Hauteville, and of Margaret de Boulon-Busset, his wife--was the young
lady selected to fill the vacant post of maid of honour to the Queen,
_vice_ De Hautefort, banished.

So long a time had elapsed since the departure of the latter that it
seemed as though Anne of Austria never intended to replace her; however,
the new mistress of the robes, the Duchesse de Sennécy, a distant
relative of Mademoiselle de Lafayette, urged the Queen so strongly in
her favour, that the appointment was at last announced.

Louise de Lafayette had passed many years of her girlhood in a convent,
and was somewhat _dévote_, but she was sincere in her piety, and
good-natured to excess. Not only was she good-natured, but she was so
entirely devoid of malice that it actually pained her to be made
acquainted with the faults of others. Perhaps her chief characteristic
was an exaggerated sensibility, almost amounting to delusion. She
created an ideal world around her, and peopled it with creatures of her
own imagination, rather than the men and women of flesh and blood among
whom she lived--a defect of youth which age and experience would
rectify. She possessed that gift, so rare in women, of charming
involuntarily--without effort or self-consciousness. When most
attractive and most admired, she alone was unconscious of it; envy
itself was disarmed by her ingenuous humility.

Louise was twenty-three years old when she was presented to the Queen at
Fontainebleau by the Principessa di Mantua, during her morning
reception. The saloon was filled with company, and great curiosity was
felt to see the successor of Mademoiselle de Hautefort. The most
critical observers were satisfied. The new maid of honour, though modest
and a little abashed, comported herself with perfect self-possession.
She was superbly dressed, had a tall and supple figure, good features,
and a complexion so exquisitely fair and fresh, and such an abundance of
sunny hair, as to remind many in the circle of her Majesty when, in the
dazzling beauty of her fifteenth year, she came a bride into France. But
Anne of Austria never had those large appealing grey eyes, beaming with
all the confidence of a guileless heart, nor that air of maiden reserve
which lent an unconscious charm to every movement, nor that calm and
placid brow, unruffled by so much as an angry thought.

Why had not Mademoiselle de Lafayette married? was the general question
which passed round the circle.

“Because she has found no one worthy of her,” was the reply of her
friend and cousin, the Duchesse de Sennécy.

After the new maid of honour had made her curtsey to the Queen, who
received her very graciously, the King (who had as usual placed himself
almost out of sight, near the door, in order to ensure a safe retreat if
needful) emerged, and timidly addressed her.

Since the scene at the monastery of the Val de Grâce, and the discovery
of Mademoiselle de Hautefort’s treachery, Louis had never once appeared
at the Queen’s lever until this morning. At the few words of compliment
he found courage to say to her, Louise blushed and curtsied, but made no
reply.

The next day the King was again present at her Majesty’s lever. He did
not speak, but his eyes never for an instant left the new maid of
honour.

The Court was at this time greatly agitated by political events. The
Spaniards were making the most alarming progress in France; they had
penetrated in the north as far as Corbie, in Picardy; in the south they
were overrunning Provence. Troops and money were both wanting. The
position of the ministry was so critical that even Richelieu was at
fault. Louis, roused from his habitual apathy, suddenly remembered that
he was the son of a great warrior, and electrified the Council of State
by announcing that he intended at once to take the field in person. A
resolve so contrary to his usual habits excited great discussion and
general interest.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Saloon of Saint-Louis, at Fontainebleau, opens from the royal
guard-room. It is a noble apartment, divided into a card-room and a
_with_-drawing, or, as we say, drawing-room. The decorations are the
same as those in the Gallery of Francis I.; the walls, painted in fresco
after designs by Primaticcio, are divided by sculptured figures, in high
relief, entwined by wreaths of flowers, fruit, and foliage. The ceiling
is blue, sown with golden stars. Lights blaze from the chandeliers
disposed on marble tables and in the corners of the room, and display
the artistic beauty of the various paintings and frescoes that cover the
walls.

The Queen is playing cards with the Bishop of Limoges. The Court groups
itself about the double rooms, and at the other card-tables. Near the
Queen are her favourites of the hour, the Principesse di Gonzaga and di
Mantua; the Duchesse de Sennécy is in attendance. The King is seated on
a settee in the darkest and most distant corner. Anne dares not now
treat him either with impertinence or _hauteur_. If she cannot bring
herself actually to fear him, she knows that he is capable of revenge.
She has learnt, however, both to fear and to dread his minister,
Richelieu, under whose insolent dominion Louis’s life is passed. Madame
de Chevreuse is no longer at hand to tempt her into rebellion, and she
has learnt to submit quietly, if not contentedly, to her lot. She has
perceived the impression made upon the King by her new maid of honour,
and looks on amused and indifferent. Of the absolute goodness and
perfect rectitude of Louise de Lafayette, no one, and certainly not the
Queen, could entertain a doubt.

As she pushes the cards towards the Bishop of Limoges to deal for her,
which he does after making her a low bow, she turns round, the better to
observe his Majesty. He has moved from the settee, and is now seated in
earnest conversation with Mademoiselle de Lafayette. A sneer gathers
about the corners of her rosy mouth, and her eyes dwell upon him for an
instant with an expression of intense contempt; then she shrugs her
snowy shoulders, leans back in her chair, takes up the cards that lie
before her, and rapidly sorts them. The conversation between Louis and
Mademoiselle de Lafayette is low and earnest. His naturally dismal face
expresses more lively interest, and his lack-lustre eyes are more
animated than they have been for years. As to the maid of honour, she
listens to him with every faculty of her being, and hangs upon his words
as though, to her at least, they are inspired.

“The condition of France,” the King is saying, “overwhelms me. Would
that I could offer up my life for my beloved country! Would that I
possessed my great father’s military genius to defend her! I go, perhaps
never to return! Alas! no one will miss me,” and he heaves a heavy sigh,
and the tears gather in his eyes.

The maid of honour longs to tell him all the interest she feels for him,
her genuine admiration, her devotion, her pity for his desolate
condition; but she is new to court life, and, like himself, she is too
timid as yet to put her feelings into words. She sits beside him
motionless as a statue, not daring even to lift up her eyes, lest they
may betray her.

“Happy, ah! happy beyond words is the man who feels he is beloved, who
feels that he is missed!”--here Louis stops, casts a reproachful glance
at the Queen, whose back was towards him, then a shy, furtive look at
Mademoiselle de Lafayette, whose heightened colour and quickened
breathing betrays the intensity of her feelings: “such a one,” continues
the King, “has a motive for desiring fame; he can afford to risk his
life in the front of the battle. Were I”--and his voice sinks almost
into a whisper--“were I dear to any one, which I know I am not, I should
seek to live in history, like my father. As it is,” and he sighs, “I
know that I possess no quality that kindles sympathy. I am betrayed by
those whom I most trust, and hated and despised by those who are bound
by nature and by law to love and honour me. My death would be a boon to
some,”--again his eyes seek out the Queen--“and a blessing to myself. I
am a blighted and a miserable man. Sometimes I ask myself why I should
live at all?” It was not possible for the human countenance to express
more absolute despair than does the King’s face at this moment.

“Oh, Sire!” was all Mademoiselle de Lafayette dare trust herself to
reply; indeed, she is so choked by rising sobs that it is not possible
for her to say more.

The King is conscious that her voice trembles; he notices also that her
bosom heaves, and that she has suddenly grown very pale. Her silence,
then, was not from lack of interest. Louis feels infinitely gratified by
the discovery of this mute sympathy. All that was surpressed and
unspoken had a subtle charm to his morbid nature. After a few moments of
silence, Louis, fearful lest the Queen’s keen eyes should be turned upon
them, rises. “I deeply deplore, mademoiselle, that this conversation
must now end. Let me hope that it may be again resumed before my
departure for the army.” Louise does not reply, but one speaking glance
tells him he will not be refused.

At supper, and when she attends the Queen in her private apartments, she
is so absent that her friend, Madame de Sennécy, reprimands her sharply.

The next morning the Duchess went to her young cousin’s room. Madame de
Sennécy had a very decided taste for intrigue, and would willingly have
replaced the Duchesse de Chevreuse in the confidence of Anne of Austria,
but she wanted her predecessor’s daring wit, her adroitness, witcheries,
and beauty; above all, she lacked that generous devotion to her
mistress, which turned her life into a romance. Now Madame de Sennécy
thought she saw a chance of advancing her interests by means of her
cousin’s growing favour with the King. She would gain her confidence,
and by retailing her secrets excite the jealousy and secure the favour
of the Queen.

“My dear child,” said she, kissing Louise on both cheeks, a bland smile
upon her face, “will you excuse my early visit?” She seated herself
opposite to Mademoiselle de Lafayette, the better to observe her.
“Excuse the warmth with which I spoke to you last night in the Queen’s
sleeping-room; but really, whatever attention the King may pay you, _ma
chère_, you must not allow yourself to grow careless in her Majesty’s
service. As mistress of the robes, I cannot permit it. All the world, my
dear cousin, sees he is in love with you”--Louise blushed to the roots
of her hair, shook her head, and looked confused and unhappy--“of course
he loves you in his fashion. I mean,” added Madame de Sennécy quickly,
seeing her distress, and not giving her time to remonstrate, “a
perfectly Platonic love, nothing improper, of course. He loves you
timidly, modestly, even in his most secret thoughts. I am told by his
attendants that the King shows every sign of a great passion, much more
intense than he ever felt for Mademoiselle de Hautefort, who, after all,
trifled with him, and never was sincere.”

“I do not know the King well enough, Duchess, to venture an opinion on
his character,” replied Mademoiselle de Lafayette, with diffidence, “but
I may say that if I had any prepossessions against his Majesty, I have
lost them; I am sure he is capable of the tenderest friendship; he longs
to open his heart to a real friend. His confidence has been hitherto
abused.”

“My dear child, I have come here to advise you to be--well--that
friend.”

“Oh! madame, I fear I am too inexperienced to be of use to him; but if
the King does ask my advice, which seems very presumptuous in me to
suppose, I shall conceal nothing that I think, neither facts nor
opinions.”

“Ah, my cousin, try to rouse him; make him reign for himself; tell him
to shake off that dreadful Cardinal.”

“That is, I fear, impossible; I am too ignorant of politics. Besides,
what can I do now? he is going away to the war.”

“Well, but, _petite sotte_, he will return, and you will meet again.”

“Oh, no,” replied Louise, again colouring under the scrutinising eye of
the mistress of the robes, “he will forget me long before that.”

“Nothing of the kind, Louise,” replied the Duchess, “the King never
forgets anything.”

“Dear Duchess, you really are talking nonsense. What on earth could make
the King care for me?” and she sighed deeply, and fell into a muse. “I
do pity him, though,” she added, speaking with great feeling; “I pity
him, I own. He is naturally good--brave--confiding,” and she paused
between each word.

“I am glad you find him so,” answered the Duchess drily.

“Yet he ill fulfils his glorious mission,” continued Louise, as if
speaking to herself. “He is conscious of it, and it pains him. I am sure
he suffers acutely.”

“Heal his wounds, then,” said the Duchess, with a cynical smile, but
speaking in so low a voice that Mademoiselle de Lafayette did not catch
the words.

“Ah! if he had but one true friend, he might emulate his great father!
Did you hear, Duchess, with what firmness he addressed the deputies
yesterday, who had refused to register the royal edicts for raising the
necessary funds for the army? ‘This money,’ he said, ‘is not for myself,
but for the nation, and to maintain the national honour. Those who
refuse it, injure France more than her enemies, the Spaniards. I will be
obeyed,’ he said. There was energy! Oh, it was noble!” and her eyes
glistened and cheeks glowed.

“I suppose the Cardinal had composed this neat little speech for him
beforehand,” replied the Duchess with a sneer, contemplating her cousin
with amused inquisitiveness. “You do not believe he ever spoke like that
himself? You do not know him as well as I do, else you would not be so
enthusiastic. However, it is all as it should be. I do not desire to
disenchant you, I am sure. _Au revoir_,” and the Duchess left the room.

The next morning, before his departure for the campaign, Louis went to
bid the Queen farewell. It was only a formal visit, and he stayed
scarcely a minute. The Queen did not affect to care what might become of
him. On leaving her audience-chamber he lingered in the anteroom in
which her attendants were assembled. Mademoiselle de Lafayette was
seated, with another maid, in a recess; she,--Mademoiselle de
Guerchy,--seeing the King’s anxious looks, at once rose and retired. He
immediately took her place, and signed to Louise to seat herself beside
him. Separated from her companion, and sitting apart with Louis, Louise
suddenly remembered that it was precisely thus the King had conversed
_tête-à-tête_ with Mademoiselle de Hautefort; she became greatly
embarrassed.

“I come,” said the King, turning towards her, and speaking in a
plaintive voice, “I come to bid you adieu.”

Louise bent her head, and put her handkerchief to her eyes. Louis
started at seeing the big tears roll down her cheeks.

“I have enjoyed few moments of happiness in the course of my dreary
life,” continued he, pressing her hand, “but this is one.”

He broke off, overcome apparently by his feelings. Louise wiped the
tears from her eyes.

“Sire, believe me, I only feel the same emotion as thousands of your
faithful subjects at a moment when you are about to lead the campaign
against Spain. If you would condescend to inform yourself of general
opinion you would find it as I say.”

“It may be, mademoiselle; but I only wish now to know _your_ feelings.
If you will indeed be to me the devoted friend I have so long sought in
vain, my entire confidence shall be yours. I go to-morrow, but the most
tender recollections will cling to me.” As he spoke he took her hand in
his and kissed it with fervour. “Think of me, I implore you, with the
same interest you now display. Believe me, my heart echoes all you feel.
If I am spared, please God, your sympathy will be the consolation of my
life.”

At this moment the Duchesse de Sennécy opened the door, in order to
cross the anteroom. The King started up at the noise, and walked quickly
towards another door opposite. The Duchess stopped; looked first at
Mademoiselle de Lafayette seated alone, covered with blushes, then at
the retreating figure of the King. She took in the whole situation at a
glance. It was too tempting an opportunity to throw away. There was a
favour she specially desired to ask. This was the very moment. In his
present state of confusion the King, only to get rid of her, was sure to
grant it. She rushed after him, and before Louis could reach the door,
she had seized upon him and spoken.

When he had gone the Duchess ran up to Louise, who was now stitching at
some embroidery to hide her blushes, and burst out laughing.

“You are merry, Duchess,” said the maid of honour, glad that anything
should divert attention from herself.

“I am laughing, Louise, at the admirable presence of mind I have just
shown. As you are only a _débutante_, I will explain what I mean for
your special instruction. His Majesty does not exactly hate me, but
something very like it. No love is lost between us. He dreads my making
capital of all I see and hear to the Queen. He dreads my turning him
into ridicule--which is so easy. Of all the persons about Court whom he
would least have liked to have surprise him in the tender conversation
he was holding with you, I am the one. He tried to reach the door. I saw
my advantage, and pursued him. I knew he wanted to shake me off, so I
seized the opportunity to ask a favour--of great importance to me. It is
granted! Is not this clever? I am grateful, and will not repeat one word
of this little adventure to her Majesty.”

Louise shook her head, and affected not to understand her. “You are
altogether mistaken, Duchess. His Majesty simply honours me with such
friendship as he might feel towards any loyal subject devoted to his
interests. It is because the Court affects to despise him that I appear
singular in estimating him at his true value; nothing else.”

“You are a prude,” exclaimed the Duchess, bluntly. “I hate affectation,
especially of that kind.” Louise hung her head down, and played with
some pearls with which the grey silk dress she wore was trimmed.
“Besides, my little cousin, you must not sacrifice the interest of your
friends, who have a right to look to you for favour and patronage.”

“Oh, Duchess, what a vile thought!” cried Louise; reddening. “Do you
think I would make his Majesty’s friendship a matter of barter!”

“Oh, bah!” replied the Duchess, growing angry. “Louise, you are not so
simple as you pretend. If you ask me the question, I reply, certainly
your friends have a right to look to you--especially myself, who never
let the Queen rest until she appointed you her maid of honour. She had
almost made a vow never to fill up the place of her dear Mademoiselle de
Hautefort.” Louise stared at the Duchess with a troubled look.
Worldliness and meanness was a new and unpleasant experience--a fresh
page in the history of the Court--that pained and revolted her.

“When the King returns,” continued Madame de Sennécy, not condescending
to notice her disapprobation, “I shall expect you to give me all your
confidence. You shall have excellent advice in return. If you follow it,
in six months’ time you will revolutionise the Court, and banish
Cardinal Richelieu. You will by that one act secure the King’s
friendship and her Majesty’s favour. Eh, Louise? a brilliant position
for a little _provinciale_ like you! You must mind what you are about,
or the Queen will grow jealous. I will take care, on the first
opportunity, to assure her you are only acting in her interests.”

“Jealous of me! Impossible!” cried Louise. “Such a great Queen! so
beautiful, so fascinating! Oh, Duchess, you are joking.”

“Nothing of the kind. I warn you not to imagine that there is any joking
at Court, or you will find yourself mistaken. Now I shall leave you,
Louise. Think over what I have said. Remember what you owe to those
friends whose influence has placed you in your present high position.”

       *       *       *       *       *

As soon as the Duchess left her, Mademoiselle de Lafayette hastened to
her room, locked the door and sat down to reflect calmly upon all that
had passed. She was disgusted with the coarse selfishness of the
Duchess, whom she determined for the future to avoid. Then her heart
melted within her as she recalled the King’s tender farewell. How
eagerly his eyes had, sought hers! How melodious was his tremulous
voice! How tenderly he had pressed her hand! He had spoken out: he
wanted a friend; he had made choice of her; he had promised her all his
confidence! Delicious thought!

No one had ever dreamed of attaching the slightest blame to his intimacy
with Mademoiselle de Hautefort. It would be therefore absurd to reject
his advances. She was safe, she felt, entirely safe in his high
principles, his delicacy, and his honour. If she could only teach him to
be as firm as he was winning, release him from the bondage of
favourites, emancipate him from the tyranny of Richelieu, and deserve
his gratitude--perhaps his affection! With what energy she would address
him on his return, and remonstrate with him on his indolence, his
indifference! With his courage, his powers of mind (in which she
sincerely believed), his sensibility and gentleness, guided by her
devoted far-seeing friendship, might he not equal his father as a
sovereign--surpass him, perhaps, as much as he now does in morals, as a
man? All these vague ideas floated through the brain of the
simple-minded girl as she sat musing within the solitude of her
chamber.



NOTES TO VOLUME I.


NOTE 1, p. 4.

Francis I., born at Cognac, was the only son of Charles d’Orléans, Duc
d’Angoulême. After the death of two sons, born to Louis XII. by his
wife, Anne de Bretagne, he created his relative, Francis, Duc de Valois,
married him to his daughter, Claude, and selected him as his successor
to the throne.


NOTE 2, p. 20.

Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, one of the oldest churches in France,
dedicated to St. Germain, Bishop of Paris, by Chilperic. Saint-Germain
l’Auxerrois, Saint-Etienne du Mont, the Hôtel de Clugny, and the Hôtel
de Sens, all dating from a very early period, still remain.


NOTE 3, p. 21.

    Gentille Agnès plus de loy tu mérite,
    La cause était de France recouvrir;
    Que ce que peut dedans un cloître ouvrir,
    Close nonnaine? ou bien dévot hermite?


NOTE 4, p. 30.

The Duc d’Alençon, husband of Marguerite de Valois, sister of Francis,
who commanded the left wing of the French army, was the only man who
showed himself a coward at Pavia. He turned and fled, with his whole
division.


NOTE 5, p. 45.

Triboulet had been court fool to Louis XII., who first discerned his
good qualities, and rescued him from a most forlorn position.
Triboulet’s sayings are almost a chronicle of the time, so much was he
mixed up with the life of the two sovereigns he served. Brusquet, who
compiled the “fool’s Calendar,” succeeded him in the office of jester to
Francis.


NOTE 6, p. 54.

Francis’s exact words, according to Du Bellay, were--“Les Guises
mettront mes enfans en pourpoint et mon pauvre peuple en chemise.” This
prophecy was poetised into the following verse:--

    “François premier prédit ce mot,
       Que ceux de la maison de Guise,
     Mettraient ses enfans en pourpoint,
       Et son pauvre peuple en chemise.”


NOTE 7, p. 58.

The Palace des Tournelles (so named from its many towers) stood in the
Rue Saint-Antoine, opposite the Hôtel de Saint-Paul, upon the site of
the Place Royal. Charles VI. was confined here when insane, by his wife,
Isabeau de Bavière. The Duke of Bedford, Regent of France for Henry VI.,
a minor, lodged here. After the expulsion of the English from Paris,
Charles VII. made it his residence. Louis XI. and Louis XII. inhabited
it. The latter monarch died here.


NOTE 8, p. 64.

Another contemporary says that the Queen of Navarre was invited to
Marcel’s, the Prévôt of Paris, where, having eaten some _confitures_,
she fell sick, and died five days afterwards.


NOTE 9, p. 68.

Charles de Guise, Cardinal de Lorraine, was Minister under Francis II.
and Charles IX. He endeavoured, without success, to introduce the
Inquisition into France.


NOTE 10, p. 95.

No sooner had Catherine de’ Medici built the Tuileries, than she left it
to inhabit the Hôtel de Soissons (then called Hôtel de la Reine), in the
parish of Saint-Eustache, in consequence of a prediction that she would
die at Saint-Germain. The Hôtel de Soissons, as well as the Hôtel de
Nesle, is now amalgamated into the Halle aux Blés. At the Hôtel de
Soissons, Catherine lived for some years before her death.


NOTE 11, p. 124.

Coligni was prosecuted as accessory to the murder of Francis, Duc de
Guise, by his widow, Anna di Ferrara, but no sentence was pronounced.


NOTE 12, p. 126.

Henri de Navarre then went to _le prêche_, Marguerite to mass.


NOTE 13, p. 128.

_Memoirs and Letters of Marguerite de Valois_ published by the Société
de l’Histoire de France, by M. Guessand, 1842.


NOTE 14, p. 144.

Coligni’s head was cut off, embalmed, and sent to Rome as a trophy. His
remains were collected and buried by his friend, Montmorenci, at
Chantilly. Before their removal from Montfaucon, Charles and all his
court rode to see them. One of the courtiers observed “that the body
smelt foul.” “Nay,” replied Charles, “the body of an enemy always smells
sweet.”


NOTE 15, p. 135.

SULLY’S ACCOUNT OF THE MASSACRE OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW.

“I felt myself awakened at three hours after midnight by the loud
ringing of all the bells, and the confused cries of the populace. My
governor, Saint-Just and my valet went out. I never heard any more of
them. I continued alone in my chamber, dressing myself, when in a few
moments I saw my landlord enter, pale and astonished. He was of the
reformed religion. He came to persuade me to go with him to mass. I did
not think proper to follow him, but resolved to try if I could gain the
College of Burgundy, where I studied, notwithstanding the distance it
was from the house where I lodged, which made the attempt very perilous.
I put on my scholar’s robe, and taking a large prayer-book under my arm,
I went out. Upon entering the street, I was seized with horror at the
sight of the furies who rushed from all parts, and burst open the
houses, bawling out ‘Slaughter, slaughter--massacre the Huguenots!’ the
blood which I saw shed before my eyes redoubled my terror. I fell into
the midst of a body of guards; they stopped me, questioned me, and were
beginning to use me ill, when, happily for me, the book that I carried
was perceived, and served me as a passport. At last I arrived at the
College of Burgundy, when a danger far greater than any I had yet met
with awaited me. The porter having twice refused me entrance, I remained
in the midst of the street, at the mercy of the Catholic furies, whose
numbers increased every moment, and who were evidently in quest of their
prey, when I bethought myself of calling for the principal of the
college, La Faye, a good man, who loved me tenderly. The porter, gained
by some small pieces of money which I put into his hand, did not fail to
make him come at once. This honest man led me into his chamber. Here two
inhuman priests, whom I heard make mention of the Sicilian Vespers,
wanted to force me from him, that they might cut me in pieces, saying:
‘The order was to kill to the very infants at the breast!’ All that La
Faye could do was to conduct me secretly to a remote closet, where he
locked me up. I was there confined three days, uncertain of my destiny,
receiving succour only from a domestic belonging to this charitable man,
who brought me from time to time something to preserve my life.”


NOTE 16, p. 138.

According to Dufresnay, _Tables Chronologiques_, vol. ii., seventy
thousand Huguenots perished in the massacre of St. Bartholomew, which
lasted seven days and seven nights. One man boasted that he had killed
four hundred with his own hand.


NOTE 17, p. 139.

It was the renown of these victories that gained for Henry the crown of
Poland.


NOTE 18, p. 149.

Comte d’Auvergne, son of Charles IX. by Marie Touchet, illegitimate
nephew of Henry III. and half-brother of Henrietta d’Entragues.


NOTE 19, p. 158.

Henry IV. was the son of Antoine de Bourbon, Duc de Vendôme, and of
Jeanne d’Albret, only daughter of Henri d’Albret, King of Navarre,
married to Marguerite Alençon, sister of Francis I., the widow of the
Duc d’Alençon.


NOTE 20, p. 162.

Chicot was a Gascon, jester to Henry IV. His _specialité_ was intense
hatred to the Duc de Mayenne, whom he constantly attempted to attack.
During an engagement at Bures, he made prisoner the Comte de Chaligny,
and carried him into Henry’s presence. “_Tiens!_” said he, “this is my
prisoner.” Chaligny was so enraged at having been captured by a buffoon,
that he poniarded Chicot on the spot.


NOTE 21, p. 253.

Marie de’ Medici died in poverty at Cologne, aged sixty-nine.


NOTE 22, p. 255.

The Duchesse de Montbazon died suddenly at Paris of measles. De Rancé
was in the country at the time; no one dared tell him what had happened.
On his return to Paris he ran up the stairs into her rooms, expecting to
find her. There he found an open coffin, containing the corpse of Madame
de Montbazon. The head was severed from the body (the coffin having been
made too short), and lay outside on the winding sheet. Such is the story
according to the _Véritable Motifs de la Conversion de l’Abbé de la
Trappe_. Other authorities contradict these details.


NOTE 23, p. 283.

Now the military hospital of the Val de Grâce, 277, Rue Saint-Jacques.
Anne of Austria having been married twenty-two years without issue,
vowed that she would build a new church within the convent, if she bore
an heir to the throne. After the death of her husband, Louis XIII., she
fulfilled her vow. The first stone of the present church was laid in
1645, by her son, Louis XIV.

END OF VOLUME I.

FOOTNOTES:

 [1] See Note 1.

 [2] See Note 2.

 [3] See Note 3.

 [4] See Note 4.

 [5] See Note 5.

 [6] See Note 6.

 [7] See Note 7.

 [8] See Note 8.

 [9] See Note 9.

 [10] See Note 10.

 [11] See Note 11.

 [12] See Note 12.

 [13] See Note 13.

 [14] See Note 14.

 [15] See Note 15.

 [16] See Note 16.

 [17] See Note 17.

 [18] See Note 18.

 [19] See Note 19.

 [20] See Note 20.

 [21] Words used by Marie de’ Medici to Louis XIII.

 [22] Richelieu used these precise words in speaking of Marie de’
 Medici.

 [23] See Note 21. o

 [24] See Note 22.

 [25] See Note 23.

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

Under him Cardidinal=> Under him Cardinal {pg vii}

he lays his land=> he lays his hand {pg 24}

these significent lines=> these significant lines {pg 51}

This marriage is indipensable=> This marriage is indispensable {pg 117}

It is indespensable=> It is indispensable {pg 240}

twiching nervously=> twitching nervously {pg 276}

Annie of Austria=> Anne of Austria {pg 253}

of the preset church=> of the present church {pg 321}





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