Read La Dame de Monsoreau Online
Authors: 1802-1870 Alexandre Dumas
Tags: #France -- History Henry III, 1574-1589 Fiction
" I know that well, monseigneur, but the game can be adjourned. I have already had the honor of informing your Highness that the house is hired for a year ; we know the lady lodges on the first story ; we have gained her maid, and have a key that opens her door. With all these advantages, we can wait."
" You are sure the door yielded ? "
" Quite sure ; it yielded to the third key I tried."
" By the way, did you shut it again ? "
" The door ? "
" Undoubtedly, monseigneur."
Notwithstanding the assured tone wherewith Aurilly uttered his answer, we are bound to say he was not at all so certain he had shut the door as that he had opened it. However, his composure left no more room for doubt in the prince's mind in the one case than in the other.
" But," said the prince, " I should not have been sorry to have learned "
" What they are doing yonder, monseigneur. I can tell you with absolute certainty. They are lying in wait for some one. Your Highness has enemies; who knows what they might not dare against you ? "
" Well, I consent to go, but I shall return."
" Not to-night, at least, monseigneur.. Your Highness must appreciate my anxiety. I see ambushes everywhere, and, certainly, it is natural to feel such terror when I am attending on the first prince of the blood — the heir of the crown whom so many have an interest in depriving of his inheritance."
These last words made such an impression on Francpis that he decided to return immediately ; but he did not do so without bitterly cursing this unlucky encounter and promising, in his own mind, to pay off these same gentlemen, whenever he conveniently could, for the discomfort they had caused him.
" Agreed ! " said he ; " let us return to the hotel ; we are safe to find Bussy there, who must have got back from that infernal wedding. He is sure to have some nice quarrel 011 his hands, and has killed, or will kill to-morrow morning, some miniqu or other. That will console me."
" Yes, monseigneur," said Aurilly, " let us return and place our reliance in Bussy. I do not ask better, and, like your Highness, I have the greatest confidence in him in an affair like that."
And they started.
Scarcely had they turned the corner of the Rue de Jouy when our five companions saw a horseman, wrapped in a long cloak, appear at the end of the Rue Tison. His horse's steps resounded harshly and firmly on the frozen ground, and the white plume in his cap was turned to silver by the feeble moonbeams, which were making a last effort to pierce the cloudy sky and the snow-laden atmosphere. He kept a tight and wary hand over his steed, which, notwithstanding the cold, frothed at the mouth, impatient at the slow gait to which it was constrained.
" This time," said Quelus, " we 're sure ! It is he ! "
" Impossible ! " returned Maugiron.
" Why, pray ? "
" Because he is alone, and we left him with Livarot, D'Entragues, and Ribeirac. They would not have let him run such a risk."
"It is he, notwithstanding; it is he," said D'Epernon. " Don't you recognize his sonorous ' hum ! ' and his insolent way of carrying his head ? He is alone, beyond a doubt."
" Then,""said D'O, "it 's a trap."
" In any case, trap or no trap," said Schomberg, " it is he ; and as it is he : To arms ! To arms ! "
It was, indeed, Bussy, who was coming carelessly down the Rue Saint-Antoine, and who had punctually followed the route traced out for him by Quelus. He had, as we have seen, been warned by Saint-Luc, and, in spite of the very natural emotion created by the latter s words, he had dismissed his three friends at the gate of the Hotel de Montrnorency.
This was just one of those bravadoes of which our valorous colonel was so fond. He once said of himself : " I am but a simple gentleman ; yet I have the heart of an emperor within my breast, and when I read in the ( Lives of Plutarch ' the exploits of the ancient Romans, I feel there is not, in my opinion, a single hero of antiquity whom I cannot imitate in everything he has done."
And, moreover, Bussy had thought that, perhaps, Saint-Luc, whom he did not usually reckon among his friends — and, in fact, he owed the unexpected interest of Saint-Luc in his fortunes to the perplexed position in which the latter was placed — might have given his warning only for the purpose of egging him on to take precautions that would make him the laughing-stock of his enemies, if enemies he had to encounter. Now, Bussy feared ridicule worse than danger. In the eyes of his enemies themselves he had a reputation for courage which could only be upheld on the lofty level it had reached by the maddest adventures. Like a hero out of Plutarch, then, he had sent away his three companions, a doughty escort that would have secured to him the respect of a squadron even, and, all alone, his arms folded under his cloak, without other weapons than his sword and dagger, he rode on to a house where awaited him, not a mistress, as might have been conjectured, but a letter sent him every month, and on the same day, by the Queen of Navarre, in memory of their former affection for each other. So, in fulfilment of a promise he had given his beautiful Marguerite, a promise never broken, he was going for it during the night, unattended, that no one might be compromised.
He had crossed safely the passage from the Rue des Grands-Augustins to the Rue Saint-Antoine, when, on arriving at the top of the Rue Saint-Catherine, his keen, practised eye discerned by the wall in the darkness those human forms which the Due d'Anjou, not so well informed, was unable to perceive. Besides, a heart truly brave feels at the approach of a known peril a sort of exaltation which sharpens the senses and the intellect to the highest degree.
Bussy counted the number of the black shadows on the gray wall.
" Three, four, five," said he, " without reckoning the lackeys, who no doubt are stationed in another corner, and will dash out at the first cry of their masters. They think highly of
me, it would seem. Still, the devil 's in it, or this is a nice job for a single man ! Well, one thing is certain : honest Saint-Luc has not deceived me, and though he were the first to make a hole in my stomach during the scrimmage, I would say to him, 1 Thanks for your warning, my friend.' r>
So saying, he continued to advance ; only his right arm moved freely under his cloak, the clasp of which his left hand, without apparent movement, had unfastened.
It was then that Schomberg shouted : " To arms ! " and the cry )3eing repeated by his four comrades, all the gentlemen together rushed on Bussy.
"Ha, gentlemen," said Bussy, in his sharp, quiet voice, " so we would like to kill this poor Bussy ? So he is the wild beast, the famous wild boar, we reckoned on hunting, eh ? Well, gentlemen, the boar is going to rip up some of you, you may take my word for it; I think you know I am not in the habit of breaking my word."
" We know it," said Schomberg. " But, for all that, none but a very ill-bred person, Seigneur Bussy d'Amboise, would speak to us on horseback when we ourselves are listening to him on foot."
And with that, the young man's arm, covered with white satin, shot out from his cloak, glistening like silver in the moonlight. Bussy could not guess his antagonist's intention, except that it must have been a threatening one, to correspond with the gesture.
And so Bussy was about to answer it in his usual manner, when, just as he was going to plunge the rowels into his horse's flanks, he felt the animal sinking under him. Schomberg, with an adroitness peculiar to him, and already exhibited in the numerous combats in which he had been engaged, young as he was, had hurled a sort of cutlass, whose broad blade was heavier than the handle, and the weapon, after hamstringing the horse, remained in the wound, driven in like a chopper into an oak-branch.
The animal gave an agonizing neigh and fell to the ground.
Bussy, always ready for everything, was on the earth in a flash, sword in hand.
" Ah, you scoundrel ! " he cried, " it was my favorite steed ; you shall pay me for it."
And as Schomberg approached, hurried along by his courage, and miscalculating the reach of the sword" which Bussy held
close to his body, as one might miscalculate the reach of the fangs of a coiled snake, Bussy's arm and sword suddenly sprang forth and wounded him in the thigh.
Schomberg uttered a cry.
" Ha !" said Bussy, " am I a man of my word ? One ripped up already. It was Bussy's wrist, not his horse's leg, you ought to have cut, you bungler."
In the twinkling of an eye, while Schomberg was binding his thigh with his handkerchief, Bussy had presented the point of his long blade, now at the face, now at the breast of each of his four other assailants, disdaining to call for aid, that is to say, to recognize he had need of aid. Wrapping his cloak about his left arm and using it as a buckler, he retreated, not to fly, but to gain a wall which he could lean against, so as not to be taken in the rear, — making ten thrusts every minute and feeling sometimes that soft resistance of the flesh which showed that his thrusts had told. Once he slipped and looked instinctively at the ground. It was enough. That instant, Quelus wounded him in the side.
" Touched ! " cried Quelus.
" Yes, on the doublet," answered Bussy, who would not even acknowledge the hurt, " the sort of touch that proves the touchers are afraid."
And bounding on Quelus, he engaged him with such vigor that the young man's sword flew ten paces away from his hand. But he could not follow up his victory, for, at that moment, D'O, D'^pernon, and Maugiron attacked him with renewed fury. Schomberg had bandaged his wound, Quelus had picked up his sword. Bussy saw he was going to be surrounded, that he had but a minute to reach the wall, and that, if he did not profit by it, he was lost.
Bussy made a leap backward that put three paces between himself and his assailants ; but four swords were at his breast in an instant. And yet it was not too late; with another leap, he had his back against the wall. There he halted, strong as Achilles or as Roland, and smiling at the hail of strokes that beat on his head like a tempest and clashed around him.
Suddenly he felt the perspiration on his forehead, and a cloud passed over his eyes.
He had forgotten his wound, and the symptoms of fainting he now experienced recalled it to him.
" Ah! you are growing weak," cried Quelus, renewing his blows.
" Wait," said Bussy, " here is the proof of it! "
And with the pommel of his sword he struck him on the temple. Quelus sank under the blow.
Then, furious, frenzied as the boar which, after holding the pack at bay, suddenly bounds amongst them, he uttered a terrible cry and rushed forward. D'Oand D'Epernon recoiled ; Maugiron had raised up Quelus and was holding him in his arms. Bussy broke the sword of Maugiron with his foot and slashed the fore-arm of Epernon. For an instant he was the victor; but Quelus came to himself, Schomberg, though wounded, returned to the lists, and again four swords blazed before his eyes. He gathered all his strength for another retreat, and drew back, step by step, to regain the wall a second time. Already the icy perspiration on his forehead, the hollow ringing in his ears, the painful bloody film that was clouding his eyes, told him that his strength was giving way. The sword no longer followed the line traced out for it by the dimmed intellect. Bussy sought for the wall with his left hand, found it, and its cold feel did him some good ; but, to his amazement, the wall yielded. It was a half-open door.
Then Bussy recovered hope, and summoned up all his strength for this supreme moment. For a second his strokes were so quick and violent that all these swords were drawn back or were lowered before him. Then he slipped on the other side of the door, and, turning round, closed it with a violent push of the shoulder. The spring clicked in the lock. It was over. Bussy was out of danger, Bussy was the victor, for Bussy was safe.
Then, with eyes wild with joy, he saw through the narrow grating the pale faces of his foes, heard the furious sword-thrusts at the door, the cries of rage, the mad imprecations. At length, it suddenly seemed to him as if the earth were giving way under his feet, as if the wall were shaking. He advanced three steps and found himself in a court, tottered and fell on the steps of a staircase.
Then he felt nothing more, and it looked to him as if he were descending into the silence and obscurity of the tomb.
HOW IT IS SOMETIMES HARD TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN A DREAM AND THE REALITY.
BEFORE he fell, Buss} 7 " had had time to pass his handkerchief under his shirt and buckle his sword-belt over it; this formed a sort of bandage for the raw, burning wound, from which the blood escaped like a jet of flame. But he had already lost enough blood before this to bring about the fainting-fit to which he had succumbed.
However, whether that in a brain over-excited by anger and pain life still held its ground under an appearance of insensibility, or that the swoon had been succeeded by a fever, and this fever had been again succeeded by a swoon, this is what Bussy saw, or thought he saw, during an hour of dream or reality, during a moment of twilight between the shadow of two nights.
He found himself in a chamber furnished with carved wooden furniture, a painted ceiling and tapestry on which numerous figures were embroidered. These individuals were worked in every possible attitude, holding flowers, carrying weapons, and seemed to be making violent efforts to get away from the walls and climb to the ceiling by mysterious paths. Between the two windows stood a woman's portrait, brilliantly lit up. Only it seemed to Bussy that the frame of this picture was exactly like the frame of a door. Bussy, nailed to his bed, apparently by some higher power, deprived of the faculty of moving, with all his senses in abeyance except that of sight, gazed with lack-lustre eyes on all these personages, on the insipid smiles of those who carried flowers and on the comical anger of those who carried swords. Had he seen them before, or was this the first time he had noticed them ? His head was too heavy to have any definite idea on the matter.