Catherine de' Medici
Honore de Balzac
Part 6 out of 7
"Gentlemen, we are five," said the king,--"five men of honor. If any
betrayal takes place, we shall know on whom to avenge it."
The three strangers kissed the hand of Charles IX. and took leave of
him with every mark of the utmost respect. As the king recrossed the
Seine, four o'clock was ringing from the clock-tower of the Louvre.
Lights were on in the queen-mother's room; she had not yet gone to
"My mother is still on the watch," said Charles to the Comte de
"She has her forge as you have yours," remarked the German.
"Dear count, what do you think of a king who is reduced to become a
conspirator?" said Charles IX., bitterly, after a pause.
"I think, sire, that if you would allow me to fling that woman into
the river, as your young cousin said, France would soon be at peace."
"What! a parricide in addition to the Saint-Bartholomew, count?" cried
the king. "No, no! I will exile her. Once fallen, my mother will no
longer have either servants or partisans."
"Well, then, sire," replied the Comte de Solern, "give me the order to
arrest her at once and take her out of the kingdom; for to-morrow she
will have forced you to change your mind."
"Come to my forge," said the king, "no one can overhear us there;
besides, I don't want my mother to suspect the capture of the
Ruggieri. If she knows I am in my work-shop she'll suppose nothing,
and we can consult about the proper measures for her arrest."
As the king entered a lower room of the palace, which he used for a
workshop, he called his companion's attention to the forge and his
implements with a laugh.
"I don't believe," he said, "among all the kings that France will ever
have, there'll be another to take pleasure in such work as that. But
when I am really king, I'll forge no swords; they shall all go back
into their scabbards."
"Sire," said the Comte de Solern, "the fatigues of tennis and hunting,
your toil at this forge, and--if I may say it--love, are chariots
which the devil is offering you to get the faster to Saint-Denis."
"Solern," said the king, in a piteous tone, "if you knew the fire they
have put into my soul and body! nothing can quench it. Are you sure of
the men who are guarding the Ruggieri?"
"As sure as of myself."
"Very good; then, during this coming day I shall take my own course.
Think of the proper means of making the arrest, and I will give you my
final orders by five o'clock at Madame de Belleville's."
As the first rays of dawn were struggling with the lights of the
workshop, Charles IX., left alone by the departure of the Comte de
Solern, heard the door of the apartment turn on its hinges, and saw
his mother standing within it in the dim light like a phantom. Though
very nervous and impressible, the king did not quiver, albeit, under
the circumstances in which he then stood, this apparition had a
certain air of mystery and horror.
"Monsieur," she said, "you are killing yourself."
"I am fulfilling my horoscope," he replied with a bitter smile. "But
you, madame, you appear to be as early as I."
"We have both been up all night, monsieur; but with very different
intentions. While you have been conferring with your worst enemies in
the open fields, concealing your acts from your mother, assisted by
Tavannes and the Gondis, with whom you have been scouring the town, I
have been reading despatches which contained the proofs of a terrible
conspiracy in which your brother, the Duc d'Alencon, your brother-in-
law, the king of Navarre, the Prince de Conde, and half the nobles of
your kingdom are taking part. Their purpose is nothing less than to
take the crown from your head and seize your person. Those gentlemen
have already fifty thousand good troops behind them."
"Bah!" exclaimed the king, incredulously.
"Your brother has turned Huguenot," she continued.
"My brother! gone over to the Huguenots!" cried Charles, brandishing
the piece of iron which he held in his hand.
"Yes; the Duc d'Alencon, Huguenot at heart, will soon be one before
the eyes of the world. Your sister, the queen of Navarre, has almost
ceased to love you; she cares more for the Duc d'Alencon; she cares of
Bussy; and she loves that little La Mole."
"What a heart!" exclaimed the king.
"That little La Mole," went on the queen, "wishes to make himself a
great man by giving France a king of his own stripe. He is promised,
they say, the place of connetable."
"Curse that Margot!" cried the king. "This is what comes of her
marriage with a heretic."
"Heretic or not is of no consequence; the trouble is that, in spite of
my advice, you have brought the head of the younger branch too near
the throne by that marriage, and Henri's purpose is now to embroil you
with the rest and make you kill one another. The house of Bourbon is
the enemy of the house of Valois; remember that, monsieur. All younger
branches should be kept in a state of poverty, for they are born
conspirators. It is sheer folly to give them arms when they have none,
or to leave them in possession of arms when they seize them. Let every
younger son be made incapable of doing harm; that is the law of
Crowns; the Sultans of Asia follow it. The proofs of this conspiracy
are in my room upstairs, where I asked you to follow me last evening,
when you bade me good-night; but instead of doing so, it seems you had
other plans. I therefore waited for you. If we do not take the proper
measures immediately you will meet the fate of Charles the Simple
within a month."
"A month!" exclaimed the king, thunderstruck at the coincidence of
that period with the delay asked for by the princes themselves. "'In a
month we shall be masters,'" he added to himself, quoting their words.
"Madame," he said aloud, "what are your proofs?"
"They are unanswerable, monsieur; they come from my daughter
Marguerite. Alarmed herself at the possibilities of such a
combination, her love for the throne of the Valois has proved
stronger, this time, than all her other loves. She asks, as the price
of her revelations that nothing shall be done to La Mole; but the
scoundrel seems to me a dangerous villain whom we had better be rid
of, as well as the Comte de Coconnas, your brother d'Alencon's right
hand. As for the Prince de Conde, he consents to everything, provided
I am thrown into the sea; perhaps that is the wedding present he gives
me in return for the pretty wife I gave him! All this is a serious
matter, monsieur. You talk of horoscopes! I know of the prediction
which gives the throne of the Valois to the Bourbons, and if we do not
take care it will be fulfilled. Do not be angry with your sister; she
has behaved well in this affair. My son," continued the queen, after a
pause, giving a tone of tenderness to her words, "evil persons on the
side of the Guises are trying to sow dissensions between you and me;
and yet we are the only ones in the kingdom whose interests are
absolutely identical. You blame me, I know, for the Saint-Bartholomew;
you accuse me of having forced you into it. Catholicism, monsieur,
must be the bond between France, Spain, and Italy, three countries
which can, by skilful management, secretly planned, be united in
course of time, under the house of Valois. Do not deprive yourself of
such chances by loosing the cord which binds the three kingdoms in the
bonds of a common faith. Why should not the Valois and the Medici
carry out for their own glory the scheme of Charles the Fifth, whose
head failed him? Let us fling off that race of Jeanne la Folle. The
Medici, masters of Florence and of Rome, will force Italy to support
your interests; they will guarantee you advantages by treaties of
commerce and alliance which shall recognize your fiefs in Piedmont,
the Milanais, and Naples, where you have rights. These, monsieur, are
the reasons of the war to the death which we make against the
Huguenots. Why do you force me to repeat these things? Charlemagne was
wrong in advancing toward the north. France is a body whose heart is
on the Gulf of Lyons, and its two arms over Spain and Italy.
Therefore, she must rule the Mediterranean, that basket into which are
poured all the riches of the Orient, now turned to the profit of those
seigneurs of Venice, in the very teeth of Philip II. If the friendship
of the Medici and your rights justify you in hoping for Italy, force,
alliances, or a possible inheritance may give you Spain. Warn the
house of Austria as to this,--that ambitious house to which the
Guelphs sold Italy, and which is even now hankering after Spain.
Though your wife is of that house, humble it! Clasp it so closely that
you will smother it! /There/ are the enemies of your kingdom; thence
comes help to the Reformers. Do not listen to those who find their
profit in causing us to disagree, and who torment your life by making
you believe I am your secret enemy. Have /I/ prevented you from having
heirs? Why has your mistress given you a son, and your wife a
daughter? Why have you not to-day three legitimate heirs to root out
the hopes of these seditious persons? Is it I, monsieur, who am
responsible for such failures? If you had an heir, would the Duc
d'Alencon be now conspiring?"
As she ended these words, Catherine fixed upon her son the magnetic
glance of a bird of prey upon its victim. The daughter of the Medici
became magnificent; her real self shone upon her face, which, like
that of a gambler over the green table, glittered with vast
cupidities. Charles IX. saw no longer the mother of one man, but (as
was said of her) the mother of armies and of empires,--/mater
castrorum/. Catherine had now spread wide the wings of her genius, and
boldly flown to the heights of the Medici and Valois policy, tracing
once more the mighty plans which terrified in earlier days her husband
Henri II., and which, transmitted by the genius of the Medici to
Richelieu, remain in writing among the papers of the house of Bourbon.
But Charles IX., hearing the unusual persuasions his mother was using,
thought that there must be some necessity for them, and he began to
ask himself what could be her motive. He dropped his eyes; he
hesitated; his distrust was not lessened by her studied phrases.
Catherine was amazed at the depths of suspicion she now beheld in her
"Well, monsieur," she said, "do you not understand me? What are we,
you and I, in comparison with the eternity of royal crowns? Do you
suppose me to have other designs than those that ought to actuate all
royal persons who inhabit the sphere where empires are ruled?"
"Madame, I will follow you to your cabinet; we must act--"
"Act!" cried Catherine; "let our enemies alone; let /them/ act; take
them red-handed, and law and justice will deliver you from their
assaults. For God's sake, monsieur, show them good-will."
The queen withdrew; the king remained alone for a few moments, for he
was utterly overwhelmed.
"On which side is the trap?" thought he. "Which of the two--she or
they--deceive me? What is my best policy? /Deus, discerne causam
meam/!" he muttered with tears in his eyes. "Life is a burden to me! I
prefer death, natural or violent, to these perpetual torments!" he
cried presently, bringing down his hammer upon the anvil with such
force that the vaults of the palace trembled.
"My God!" he said, as he went outside and looked up at the sky, "thou
for whose holy religion I struggle, give me the light of thy
countenance that I may penetrate the secrets of my mother's heart
while I question the Ruggieri."
The little house of Madame de Belleville, where Charles IX. had
deposited his prisoners, was the last but one in the rue de l'Autruche
on the side of the rue Saint-Honore. The street gate, flanked by two
little brick pavilions, seemed very simple in those days, when gates
and their accessories were so elaborately treated. It had two
pilasters of stone cut in facets, and the coping represented a
reclining woman holding a cornucopia. The gate itself, closed by
enormous locks, had a wicket through which to examine those who asked
admittance. In each pavilion lived a porter; for the king's extremely
capricious pleasure required a porter by day and by night. The house
had a little courtyard, paved like those of Venice. At this period,
before carriages were invented, ladies went about on horseback, or in
litters, so that courtyards could be made magnificent without fear of
injury from horses or carriages. This fact is always to be remembered
as an explanation of the narrowness of streets, the small size of
courtyards, and certain other details of the private dwellings of the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The house, of one story only above the ground-floor, was capped by a
sculptured frieze, above which rose a roof with four sides, the peak
being flattened to form a platform. Dormer windows were cut in this
roof, with casings and pediments which the chisel of some great artist
had covered with arabesques and dentils; each of the three windows on
the main floor were equally beautiful in stone embroidery, which the
brick of the walls showed off to great advantage. On the ground-floor,
a double portico, very delicately decorated, led to the entrance door,
which was covered with bosses cut with facets in the Venetian manner,
--a style of decoration which was further carried on round the windows
placed to right and left of the door.
A garden, carefully laid out in the fashion of the times and filled
with choice flowers, occupied a space behind the house equal to that
of the courtyard in front. A grape-vine draped its walls. In the
centre of a grass plot rose a silver fir-tree. The flower-borders were
separated from the grass by meandering paths which led to an arbor of
clipped yews at the farther end of the little garden. The walls were
covered with a mosaic of variously colored pebbles, coarse in design,
it is true, but pleasing to the eye from the harmony of its tints with
those of the flower-beds. The house had a carved balcony on the garden
side, above the door, and also on the front toward the courtyard, and
around the middle windows. On both sides of the house the
ornamentation of the principal window, which projected some feet from
the wall, rose to the frieze; so that it formed a little pavilion,
hung there like a lantern. The casings of the other windows were
inlaid on the stone with precious marbles.
In spite of the exquisite taste displayed in the little house, there
was an air of melancholy about it. It was darkened by the buildings
that surrounded it and by the roofs of the hotel d'Alencon which threw
a heavy shadow over both court and garden; moreover, a deep silence
reigned there. But this silence, these half-lights, this solitude,
soothed a royal soul, which could there surrender itself to a single
emotion, as in a cloister where men pray, or in some sheltered home
wherein they love.
It is easy now to imagine the interior charm and choiceness of this
haven, the sole spot in his kingdom where this dying Valois could pour
out his soul, reveal his sufferings, exercise his taste for art, and
give himself up to the poesy he loved,--pleasures denied him by the
cares of a cruel royalty. Here, alone, were his great soul and his
high intrinsic worth appreciated; here he could give himself up, for a
few brief months, the last of his life, to the joys of fatherhood,--
pleasures into which he flung himself with the frenzy that a sense of
his coming and dreadful death impressed on all his actions.
In the afternoon of the day succeeding the night-scene we have just
described, Marie Touchet was finishing her toilet in the oratory,
which was the boudoir of those days. She was arranging the long curls
of her beautiful black hair, blending them with the velvet of a new
coif, and gazing intently into her mirror.
"It is nearly four o'clock; that interminable council must surely be
over," she thought to herself. "Jacob has returned from the Louvre; he
says that everybody he saw was excited about the number of the
councillors summoned and the length of the session. What can have
happened? Is it some misfortune? Good God! surely /he/ knows how
suspense wears out the soul! Perhaps he has gone a-hunting? If he is
happy and amused, it is all right. When I see him gay, I forget all I
She drew her hands round her slender waist as if to smooth some
trifling wrinkle in her gown, turning sideways to see if its folds
fell properly, and as she did so, she caught sight of the king on the
couch behind her. The carpet had so muffled the sound of his steps
that he had slipped in softly without being heard.
"You frightened me!" she said, with a cry of surprise, which was
"Were you thinking of me?" said the king.
"When do I not think of you?" she answered, sitting down beside him.
She took off his cap and cloak, passing her hands through his hair as
though she combed it with her fingers. Charles let her do as she
pleased, but made no answer. Surprised at this, Marie knelt down to
study the pale face of her royal master, and then saw the signs of a
dreadful weariness and a more consummate melancholy than any she had
yet consoled. She repressed her tears and kept silence, that she might
not irritate by mistaken words the sorrow which, as yet, she did not
understand. In this she did as tender women do under like
circumstances. She kissed that forehead, seamed with untimely
wrinkles, and those livid cheeks, trying to convey to the worn-out
soul the freshness of hers,--pouring her spirit into the sweet
caresses which met with no response. Presently she raised her head to
the level of the king's, clasping him softly in her arms; then she lay
still, her face hidden on that suffering breast, watching for the
opportune moment to question his dejected mind.
"My Charlot," she said at last, "will you not tell your poor,
distressed Marie the troubles that cloud that precious brow, and
whiten those beautiful red lips?"
"Except Charlemagne," he said in a hollow voice, "all the kings of
France named Charles have ended miserably."
"Pooh!" she said, "look at Charles VIII."
"That poor prince!" exclaimed the king. "In the flower of his age he
struck his head against a low door at the chateau of Amboise, which he
was having decorated, and died in horrible agony. It was his death
which gave the crown to our family."
"Charles VII. reconquered his kingdom."
"Darling, he died" (the king lowered his voice) "of hunger; for he
feared being poisoned by the dauphin, who had already caused the death
of his beautiful Agnes. The father feared his son; to-day the son
dreads his mother!"
"Why drag up the past?" she said hastily, remembering the dreadful
life of Charles VI.
"Ah! sweetest, kings have no need to go to sorcerers to discover their
coming fate; they need only turn to history. I am at this moment
endeavoring to escape the fate of Charles the Simple, who was robbed
of his crown, and died in prison after seven years' captivity."
"Charles V. conquered the English," she cried triumphantly.
"No, not he, but du Guesclin. He himself, poisoned by Charles de
Navarre, dragged out a wretched existence."
"Well, Charles IV., then?"
"He married three times to obtain an heir, in spite of the masculine
beauty of the children of Philippe le Bel. The first house of Valois
ended with him, and the second is about to end in the same way. The
queen has given me only a daughter, and I shall die without leaving
her pregnant; for a long minority would be the greatest curse I could
bequeath to the kingdom. Besides, if I had a son, would he live? The
name of Charles is fatal; Charlemagne exhausted the luck of it. If I
left a son I would tremble at the thought that he would be Charles X."
"Who is it that wants to seize your crown?"
"My brother d'Alencon conspires against it. Enemies are all about me."
"Monsieur," said Marie, with a charming little pout, "do tell me
"Ah! my little jewel, my treasure, don't call me 'monsieur,' even in
jest; you remind me of my mother, who stabs me incessantly with that
title, by which she seems to snatch away my crown. She says 'my son'
to the Duc d'Anjou--I mean the king of Poland."
"Sire," exclaimed Marie, clasping her hands as though she were
praying, "there is a kingdom where you are worshipped. Your Majesty
fills it with his glory, his power; and there the word 'monsieur,'
means 'my beloved lord.'"
She unclasped her hands, and with a pretty gesture pointed to her
heart. The words were so /musiques/ (to use a word of the times which
depicted the melodies of love) that Charles IX. caught her round the
waist with the nervous force that characterized him, and seated her on
his knee, rubbing his forehead gently against the pretty curls so
coquettishly arranged. Marie thought the moment favorable; she
ventured a few kisses, which Charles allowed rather than accepted,
then she said softly:--
"If my servants were not mistaken you were out all night in the
streets, as in the days when you played the pranks of a younger son."
"Yes," replied the king, still lost in his own thoughts.
"Did you fight the watchman and frighten some of the burghers? Who are
the men you brought here and locked up? They must be very criminal, as
you won't allow any communication with them. No girl was ever locked
in as carefully, and they have not had a mouthful to eat since they
came. The Germans whom Solern left to guard them won't let any one go
near the room. Is it a joke you are playing; or is it something
"Yes, you are right," said the king, coming out of his reverie, "last
night I did scour the roofs with Tavannes and the Gondis. I wanted to
try my old follies with the old companions; but my legs were not what
they once were; I did not dare leap the streets; though we did jump
two alleys from one roof to the next. At the second, however, Tavannes
and I, holding on to a chimney, agreed that we couldn't do it again.
If either of us had been alone we couldn't have done it then."
"I'll wager that you sprang first." The king smiled. "I know why you
risk your life in that way."
"And why, you little witch?"
"You are tired of life."
"Ah, sorceress! But I am being hunted down by sorcery," said the king,
resuming his anxious look.
"My sorcery is love," she replied, smiling. "Since the happy day when
you first loved me, have I not always divined your thoughts? And--if
you will let me speak the truth--the thoughts which torture you to-day
are not worthy of a king."
"Am I a king?" he said bitterly.
"Cannot you be one? What did Charles VII. do? He listened to his
mistress, monseigneur, and he reconquered his kingdom, invaded by the
English as yours is now by the enemies of our religion. Your last
/coup d'Etat/ showed you the course you have to follow. Exterminate
"You blamed the Saint-Bartholomew," said Charles, "and now you--"
"That is over," she said; "besides, I agree with Madame Catherine that
it was better to do it yourselves than let the Guises do it."
"Charles VII. had only men to fight; I am face to face with ideas,"
resumed the king. "We can kill men, but we can't kill words! The
Emperor Charles V. gave up the attempt; his son Philip has spent his
strength upon it; we shall all perish, we kings, in that struggle. On
whom can I rely? To right, among the Catholics, I find the Guises, who
are my enemies; to left, the Calvinists, who will never forgive me the
death of my poor old Coligny, nor that bloody day in August; besides,
they want to suppress the throne; and in front of me what have I?--my
"Arrest her; reign alone," said Marie in a low voice, whispering in
"I meant to do so yesterday; to-day I no longer intend it. You speak
of it rather coolly."
"Between the daughter of an apothecary and that of a doctor there is
no great difference," replied Touchet, always ready to laugh at the
false origin attributed to her.
The king frowned.
"Marie, don't take such liberties. Catherine de' Medici is my mother,
and you ought to tremble lest--"
"What is it you fear?"
"Poison!" cried the king, beside himself.
"Poor child!" cried Marie, restraining her tears; for the sight of
such strength united to such weakness touched her deeply. "Ah!" she
continued, "you make me hate Madame Catherine, who has been so good to
me; her kindness now seems perfidy. Why is she so kind to me, and bad
to you? During my stay in Dauphine I heard many things about the
beginning of your reign which you concealed from me; it seems to me
that the queen, your mother, is the real cause of all your troubles."
"In what way?" cried the king, deeply interested.
"Women whose souls and whose intentions are pure use virtue wherewith
to rule the men they love; but women who do not seek good rule men
through their evil instincts. Now, the queen made vices out of certain
of your noblest qualities, and she taught you to believe that your
worst inclinations were virtues. Was that the part of a mother? Be a
tyrant like Louis XI.; inspire terror; imitate Philip II.; banish the
Italians; drive out the Guises; confiscate the lands of the
Calvinists. Out of this solitude you will rise a king; you will save
the throne. The moment is propitious; your brother is in Poland."
"We are two children at statecraft," said Charles, bitterly; "we know
nothing except how to love. Alas! my treasure, yesterday I, too,
thought all these things; I dreamed of accomplishing great deeds--bah!
my mother blew down my house of cards! From a distance we see great
questions outlined like the summits of mountains, and it is easy to
say: 'I'll make an end of Calvinism; I'll bring those Guises to task;
I'll separate from the Court of Rome; I'll rely upon my people, upon
the burghers--' ah! yes, from afar it all seems simple enough! but try
to climb those mountains and the higher you go the more the
difficulties appear. Calvinism, in itself, is the last thing the
leaders of that party care for; and the Guises, those rabid Catholics,
would be sorry indeed to see the Calvinists put down. Each side
considers its own interests exclusively, and religious opinions are
but a cloak for insatiable ambition. The party of Charles IX. is the
feeblest of all. That of the king of Navarre, that of the king of
Poland, that of the Duc d'Alencon, that of the Condes, that of the
Guises, that of my mother, are all intriguing one against another, but
they take no account of me, not even in my own council. My mother, in
the midst of so many contending elements, is, nevertheless, the
strongest among them; she has just proved to me the inanity of my
plans. We are surrounded by rebellious subjects who defy the law. The
axe of Louis XI. of which you speak, is lacking to us. Parliament
would not condemn the Guises, nor the king of Navarre, nor the Condes,
nor my brother. No! the courage to assassinate is needed; the throne
will be forced to strike down those insolent men who suppress both law
and justice; but where can we find the faithful arm? The council I
held this morning has disgusted me with everything; treason
everywhere; contending interests all about me. I am tired with the
burden of my crown. I only want to die in peace."
He dropped into a sort of gloomy somnolence.
"Disgusted with everything!" repeated Marie Touchet, sadly; but she
did not disturb the black torpor of her lover.
Charles was the victim of a complete prostration of mind and body,
produced by three things,--the exhaustion of all his faculties,
aggravated by the disheartenment of realizing the extent of an evil;
the recognized impossibility of surmounting his weakness; and the
aspect of difficulties so great that genius itself would dread them.
The king's depression was in proportion to the courage and the
loftiness of ideas to which he had risen during the last few months.
In addition to this, an attack of nervous melancholy, caused by his
malady, had seized him as he left the protracted council which had
taken place in his private cabinet. Marie saw that he was in one of
those crises when the least word, even of love, would be importunate
and painful; so she remained kneeling quietly beside him, her head on
his knee, the king's hand buried in her hair, and he himself
motionless, without a word, without a sigh, as still as Marie herself,
--Charles IX. in the lethargy of impotence, Marie in the stupor of
despair which comes to a loving woman when she perceives the
boundaries at which love ends.
The lovers thus remained, in the deepest silence, during one of those
terrible hours when all reflection wounds, when the clouds of an
inward tempest veil even the memory of happiness. Marie believed that
she herself was partly the cause of this frightful dejection. She
asked herself, not without horror, if the excessive joys and the
violent love which she had never yet found strength to resist, did not
contribute to weaken the mind and body of the king. As she raised her
eyes, bathed in tears, toward her lover, she saw the slow tears
rolling down his pallid cheeks. This mark of the sympathy that united
them so moved the king that he rushed from his depression like a
spurred horse. He took Marie in his arms and placed her on the sofa.
"I will no longer be a king," he cried. "I will be your lover, your
lover only, wholly given up to that happiness. I will die happy, and
not consumed by the cares and miseries of a throne."
The tone of these words, the fire that shone in the half-extinct eyes
of the king, gave Marie a terrible shock instead of happiness; she
blamed her love as an accomplice in the malady of which the king was
"Meanwhile you forget your prisoners," she said, rising abruptly.
"Hey! what care I for them? I give them leave to kill me."
"What! are they murderers?"
"Oh, don't be frightened, little one; we hold them fast. Don't think
of them, but of me. Do you love me?"
"Sire!" she cried.
"Sire!" he repeated, sparks darting from his eyes, so violent was the
rush of his anger at the untimely respect of his mistress. "You are in
league with my mother."
"O God!" cried Marie, looking at the picture above her /prie-dieu/ and
turning toward it to say her prayer, "grant that he comprehend me!"
"Ah!" said the king suspiciously, "you have some wrong to me upon your
conscience!" Then looking at her from between his arms, he plunged his
eyes into hers. "I have heard some talk of the mad passion of a
certain Entragues," he went on wildly. "Ever since their grandfather,
the soldier Balzac, married a viscontessa at Milan that family hold
their heads too high."
Marie looked at the king with so proud an air that he was ashamed. At
that instant the cries of little Charles de Valois, who had just
awakened, were heard in the next room. Marie ran to the door.
"Come in, Bourguignonne!" she said, taking the child from its nurse
and carrying it to the king. "You are more of a child than he," she
cried, half angry, half appeased.
"He is beautiful!" said Charles IX., taking his son in his arms.
"I alone know how like he is to you," said Marie; "already he has your
smile and your gestures."
"So tiny as that!" said the king, laughing at her.
"Oh, I know men don't believe such things; but watch him, my Charlot,
play with him. Look there! See! Am I not right?"
"True!" exclaimed the king, astonished by a motion of the child which
seemed the very miniature of a gesture of his own.
"Ah, the pretty flower!" cried the mother. "Never shall he leave us!
/He/ will never cause me grief."
The king frolicked with his son; he tossed him in his arms, and kissed
him passionately, talking the foolish, unmeaning talk, the pretty,
baby language invented by nurses and mothers. His voice grew child-
like. At last his forehead cleared, joy returned to his saddened face,
and then, as Marie saw that he had forgotten his troubles, she laid
her head upon his shoulder and whispered in his ear:--
"Won't you tell me, Charlot, why you have made me keep murderers in my
house? Who are these men, and what do you mean to do with them? In
short, I want to know what you were doing on the roofs. I hope there
was no woman in the business?"
"Then you love me as much as ever!" cried the king, meeting the clear,
interrogatory glance that women know so well how to cast upon
"You doubted /me/," she replied, as a tear shone on her beautiful
"There are women in my adventure," said the king; "but they are
sorceresses. How far had I told you?"
"You were on the roofs near by--what street was it?"
"Rue Saint-Honore, sweetest," said the king, who seemed to have
recovered himself. Collecting this thoughts, he began to explain to
his mistress what had happened, as if to prepare her for a scene that
was presently to take place in her presence.
"As I was passing through the street last night on a frolic," he said,
"I chanced to see a bright light from the dormer window of the house
occupied by Rene, my mother's glover and perfumer, and once yours. I
have strong doubts about that man and what goes on in his house. If I
am poisoned, the drug will come from there."
"I shall dismiss him to-morrow."
"Ah! so you kept him after I had given him up?" cried the king. "I
thought my life was safe with you," he added gloomily; "but no doubt
death is following me even here."
"But, my dearest, I have only just returned from Dauphine with our
dauphin," she said, smiling, "and Rene has supplied me with nothing
since the death of the Queen of Navarre. Go on; you climbed to the
roof of Rene's house?"
THE KING'S TALE
"Yes," returned the king. "In a second I was there, followed by
Tavannes, and then we clambered to a spot where I could see without
being seen the interior of that devil's kitchen, in which I beheld
extraordinary things which inspired me to take certain measures. Did
you ever notice the end of the roof of that cursed perfumer? The
windows toward the street are always closed and dark, except the last,
from which can be seen the hotel de Soissons and the observatory which
my mother built for that astrologer, Cosmo Ruggiero. Under the roof
are lodging-rooms and a gallery which have no windows except on the
courtyard, so that in order to see what was going on within, it was
necessary to go where no man before ever dreamed of climbing,--along
the coping of a high wall which adjoins the roof of Rene's house. The
men who set up in that house the furnaces by which they distil death,
reckoned on the cowardice of Parisians to save them from being
overlooked; but they little thought of Charles de Valois! I crept
along the coping until I came to a window, against the casing of which
I was able to stand up straight with my arm round a carved monkey
which ornamented it."
"What did you see, dear heart?" said Marie, trembling.
"A den, where works of darkness were being done," replied the king.
"The first object on which my eyes lighted was a tall old man seated
in a chair, with a magnificent white beard, like that of old
l'Hopital, and dressed like him in a black velvet robe. On his broad
forehead furrowed deep with wrinkles, on his crown of white hair, on
his calm, attentive face, pale with toil and vigils, fell the
concentrated rays of a lamp from which shone a vivid light. His
attention was divided between an old manuscript, the parchment of
which must have been centuries old, and two lighted furnaces on which
heretical compounds were cooking. Neither the floor nor the ceiling of
the laboratory could be seen, because of the myriads of hanging
skeletons, bodies of animals, dried plants, minerals, and articles of
all kinds that masked the walls; while on the floor were books,
instruments for distilling, chests filled with utensils for magic and
astrology; in one place I saw horoscopes and nativities, phials, wax-
figures under spells, and possibly poisons. Tavannes and I were
fascinated, I do assure you, by the sight of this devil's-arsenal.
Only to see it puts one under a spell, and if I had not been King of
France, I might have been awed by it. 'You can tremble for both of
us,' I whispered to Tavannes. But Tavannes' eyes were already caught
by the most mysterious feature of the scene. On a couch, near the old
man, lay a girl of strangest beauty,--slender and long like a snake,
white as ermine, livid as death, motionless as a statue. Perhaps it
was a woman just taken from her grave, on whom they were trying
experiments, for she seemed to wear a shroud; her eyes were fixed, and
I could not see that she breathed. The old fellow paid no attention to
her. I looked at him so intently that, after a while, his soul seemed
to pass into mine. By dint of studying him, I ended by admiring the
glance of his eye,--so keen, so profound, so bold, in spite of the
chilling power of age. I admired his mouth, mobile with thoughts
emanating from a desire which seemed to be the solitary desire of his
soul, and was stamped upon every line of the face. All things in that
man expressed a hope which nothing discouraged, and nothing could
check. His attitude,--a quivering immovability,--those outlines so
free, carved by a single passion as by the chisel of a sculptor, that
IDEA concentrated on some experiment criminal or scientific, that
seeking Mind in quest of Nature, thwarted by her, bending but never
broken under the weight of its own audacity, which it would not
renounce, threatening creation with the fire it derived from it,--ah!
all that held me in a spell for the time being. I saw before me an old
man who was more of a king than I, for his glance embraced the world
and mastered it. I will forge swords no longer; I will soar above the
abysses of existence, like that man; for his science, methinks, is
true royalty! Yes, I believe in occult science."
"You, the eldest son, the defender of the Holy Catholic, Apostolic,
and Roman Church?" said Marie.
"What happened to you? Go on, go on; I will fear for you, and you will
have courage for me."
"Looking at a clock, the old man rose," continued the king. "He went
out, I don't know where; but I heard the window on the side toward the
rue Saint-Honore open. Soon a brilliant light gleamed out upon the
darkness; then I saw in the observatory of the hotel de Soissons
another light replying to that of the old man, and by it I beheld the
figure of Cosmo Ruggiero on the tower. 'See, they communicate!' I said
to Tavannes, who from that moment thought the matter frightfully
suspicious, and agreed with me that we ought to seize the two men and
search, incontinently, their accursed workshop. But before proceeding
to do so, we wanted to see what was going to happen. After about
fifteen minutes the door opened, and Cosmo Ruggiero, my mother's
counsellor,--the bottomless pit which holds the secrets of the court,
he from whom all women ask help against their husbands and lovers, and
all the men ask help against their unfaithful wives and mistresses, he
who traffics on the future as on the past, receiving pay with both
hands, who sells horoscopes and is supposed to know all things,--that
semi-devil came in, saying to the old man, 'Good-day to you, brother.'
With him he brought a hideous old woman,--toothless, humpbacked,
twisted, bent, like a Chinese image, only worse. She was wrinkled as a
withered apple; her skin was saffron-colored; her chin bit her nose;
her mouth was a mere line scarcely visible; her eyes were like the
black spots on a dice; her forehead emitted bitterness; her hair
escaped in straggling gray locks from a dirty coif; she walked with a
crutch; she smelt of heresy and witchcraft. The sight of her actually
frightened us, Tavannes and me! We didn't think her a natural woman.
God never made a woman so fearful as that. She sat down on a stool
near the pretty snake with whom Tavannes was in love. The two brothers
paid no attention to the old woman nor to the young woman, who
together made a horrible couple,--on the one side life in death, on
the other death in life--"
"Ah! my sweet poet!" cried Marie, kissing the king.
"'Good-day, Cosmo,' replied the old alchemist. And they both looked
into the furnace. 'What strength has the moon to-day?' asked the
elder. 'But, /caro Lorenzo/,' replied my mother's astrologer, 'the
September tides are not yet over; we can learn nothing while that
disorder lasts.' 'What says the East to-night?' 'It discloses in the
air a creative force which returns to earth all that earth takes from
it. The conclusion is that all things here below are the product of a
slow transformation, but that all diversities are the forms of one and
the same substance.' 'That is what my predecessor thought,' replied
Lorenzo. 'This morning Bernard Palissy told me that metals were the
result of compression, and that fire, which divides all, also unites
all; fire has the power to compress as well as to separate. That man
has genius.' Though I was placed where it was impossible for them to
see me, Cosmo said, lifting the hand of the dead girl: 'Some one is
near us! Who is it' 'The king,' she answered. I at once showed myself
and rapped on the window. Ruggiero opened it, and I sprang into that
hellish kitchen, followed by Tavannes. 'Yes, the king,' I said to the
two Florentines, who seemed terrified. 'In spite of your furnaces and
your books, your sciences and your sorceries, you did not foresee my
visit. I am very glad to meet the famous Lorenzo Ruggiero, of whom my
mother speaks mysteriously,' I said, addressing the old man, who rose
and bowed. 'You are in this kingdom without my consent, my good man.
For whom are you working here, you whose ancestors from father to son
have been devoted in heart to the house of Medici? Listen to me! You
dive into so many purses that by this time, if you are grasping men,
you have piled up gold. You are too shrewd and cautious to cast
yourselves imprudently into criminal actions; but, nevertheless, you
are not here in this kitchen without a purpose. Yes, you have some
secret scheme, you who are satisfied neither by gold nor power. Whom
do you serve,--God or the devil? What are you concocting here? I
choose to know the whole truth; I am a man who can hear it and keep
silence about your enterprise, however blamable it maybe. Therefore
you will tell me all, without reserve. If you deceive me you will be
treated severely. Pagans or Christians, Calvinists or Mohammedans, you
have my royal word that you shall leave the kingdom in safety if you
have any misdemeanors to relate. I shall leave you for the rest of the
night and the forenoon of to-morrow to examine your thoughts; for you
are now my prisoners, and you will at once follow me to a place where
you will be guarded carefully.' Before obeying me the two Italians
consulted each other by a subtle glance; then Lorenzo Ruggiero said I
might be assured that no torture could wring their secrets from them;
that in spite of their apparent feebleness neither pain nor human
feelings had any power of them; confidence alone could make their
mouth say what their mind contained. I must not, he said, be surprised
if they treated as equals with a king who recognized God only as above
him, for their thoughts came from God alone. They therefore claimed
from me as much confidence and trust as they should give to me. But
before engaging themselves to answer me without reserve they must
request me to put my left hand into that of the young girl lying
there, and my right into that of the old woman. Not wishing them to
think I was afraid of their sorcery, I held out my hands; Lorenzo took
the right, Cosmo the left, and each placed a hand in that of each
woman, so that I was like Jesus Christ between the two thieves. During
the time that the two witches were examining my hands Cosmo held a
mirror before me and asked me to look into it; his brother, meanwhile,
was talking with the two women in a language unknown to me. Neither
Tavannes nor I could catch the meaning of a single sentence. Before
bringing the men here we put seals on all the outlets of the
laboratory, which Tavannes undertook to guard until such time as, by
my express orders, Bernard Palissy, and Chapelain, my physician, could
be brought there to examine thoroughly the drugs the place contained
and which were evidently made there. In order to keep the Ruggieri
ignorant of this search, and to prevent them from communicating with a
single soul outside, I put the two devils in your lower rooms in
charge of Solern's Germans, who are better than the walls of a jail.
Rene, the perfumer, is kept under guard in his own house by Solern's
equerry, and so are the two witches. Now, my sweetest, inasmuch as I
hold the keys of the whole cabal,--the kings of Thune, the chiefs of
sorcery, the gypsy fortune-tellers, the masters of the future, the
heirs of all past soothsayers,--I intend by their means to read /you/,
to know your heart; and, together, we will find out what is to happen
"I shall be glad if they can lay my heart bare before you," said
Marie, without the slightest fear.
"I know why sorcerers don't frighten you,--because you are a witch
"Will you have a peach?" she said, offering him some delicious fruit
on a gold plate. "See these grapes, these pears; I went to Vincennes
myself and gathered them for you."
"Yes, I'll eat them; there is no poison there except a philter from
"You ought to eat a great deal of fruit, Charles; it would cool your
blood, which you heat by such excitements."
"Must I love you less?"
"Perhaps so," she said. "If the things you love injure you--and I have
feared it--I shall find strength in my heart to refuse them. I adore
Charles more than I love the king; I want the man to live, released
from the tortures that make him grieve."
"Royalty has ruined me."
"Yes," she replied. "If you were only a poor prince, like your
brother-in-law of Navarre, without a penny, possessing only a
miserable little kingdom in Spain where he never sets his foot, and
Bearn in France which doesn't give him revenue enough to feed him, I
should be happy, much happier than if I were really Queen of France."
"But you are more than the Queen of France. She has King Charles for
the sake of the kingdom only; royal marriages are only politics."
Marie smiled and made a pretty little grimace as she said: "Yes, yes,
I know that, sire. And my sonnet, have you written it?"
"Dearest, verses are as difficult to write as treaties of peace; but
you shall have them soon. Ah, me! life is so easy here, I wish I might
never leave you. However, we must send for those Italians and question
them. /Tete-Dieu/! I thought one Ruggiero in the kingdom was one too
many, but it seems there are two. Now listen, my precious; you don't
lack sense, you would make an excellent lieutenant of police, for you
can penetrate things--"
"But, sire, we women suppose all we fear, and we turn what is probable
into truths; that is the whole of our art in a nutshell."
"Well, help me to sound these men. Just now all my plans depend on the
result of their examination. Are they innocent? Are they guilty? My
mother is behind them."
"I hear Jacob's voice in the next room," said Marie.
Jacob was the favorite valet of the king, and the one who accompanied
him on all his private excursions. He now came to ask if it was the
king's good pleasure to speak to the two prisoners. The king made a
sign in the affirmative, and the mistress of the house gave her
"Jacob," she said, "clear the house of everybody, except the nurse and
Monsieur le Dauphin d'Auvergne, who may remain. As for you, stay in
the lower hall; but first, close the windows, draw the curtains of the
salon, and light the candles."
The king's impatience was so great that while these preparations were
being made he sat down upon a raised seat at the corner of a lofty
fireplace of white marble in which a bright fire was blazing, placing
his pretty mistress by his side. His portrait, framed in velvet, was
over the mantle in place of a mirror. Charles IX. rested his elbow on
the arm of the seat as if to watch the two Florentines the better
under cover of his hand.
The shutters closed, and the curtains drawn, Jacob lighted the wax
tapers in a tall candelabrum of chiselled silver, which he placed on
the table where the Florentines were to stand,--an object, by the bye,
which they would readily recognize as the work of their compatriot,
Benvenuto Cellini. The richness of the room, decorated in the taste of
Charles IX., now shone forth. The red-brown of the tapestries showed
to better advantage than by daylight. The various articles of
furniture, delicately made or carved, reflected in their ebony panels
the glow of the fire and the sparkle of the lights. Gilding, soberly
applied, shone here and there like eyes, brightening the brown color
which prevailed in this nest of love.
Jacob presently gave two knocks, and, receiving permission, ushered in
the Italians. Marie Touchet was instantly affected by the grandeur of
Lorenzo's presence, which struck all those who met him, great and
small alike. The silvery whiteness of the old man's beard was
heightened by a robe of black velvet; his brow was like a marble dome.
His austere face, illumined by two black eyes which cast a pointed
flame, conveyed an impression of genius issuing from solitude, and all
the more effective because its power had not been dulled by contact
with men. It was like the steel of a blade that had never been
As for Cosmo Ruggiero, he wore the dress of a courtier of the time.
Marie made a sign to the king to assure him that he had not
exaggerated his description, and to thank him for having shown her
these extraordinary men.
"I would like to have seen the sorceresses, too," she whispered in his
Again absorbed in thought, Charles IX. made her no answer; he was idly
flicking crumbs of bread from his doublet and breeches.
"Your science cannot change the heavens or make the sun to shine,
messieurs," he said at last, pointing to the curtains which the gray
atmosphere of Paris darkened.
"Our science can make the skies what we like, sire," replied Lorenzo
Ruggiero. "The weather is always fine for those who work in a
laboratory by the light of a furnace."
"That is true," said the king. "Well, father," he added, using an
expression familiar to him when addressing old men, "explain to us
clearly the object of your studies."
"What will guarantee our safety?"
"The word of a king," replied Charles IX., whose curiosity was keenly
excited by the question.
Lorenzo Ruggiero seemed to hesitate, and Charles IX. cried out: "What
hinders you? We are here alone."
"But is the King of France here?" asked Lorenzo.
Charles reflected an instant, and then answered, "No."
The imposing old man then took a chair, and seated himself. Cosmo,
astonished at this boldness, dared not imitate it.
Charles IX. remarked, with cutting sarcasm: "The king is not here,
monsieur, but a lady is, whose permission it was your duty to await."
"He whom you see before you, madame," said the old man, "is as far
above kings as kings are above their subjects; you will think me
courteous when you know my powers."
Hearing these audacious words, with Italian emphasis, Charles and
Marie looked at each other, and also at Cosmo, who, with his eyes
fixed on his brother, seemed to be asking himself: "How does he intend
to get us out of the danger in which we are?"
In fact, there was but one person present who could understand the
boldness and the art of Lorenzo Ruggiero's first step; and that person
was neither the king nor his young mistress, on whom that great seer
had already flung the spell of his audacity,--it was Cosmo Ruggiero,
his wily brother. Though superior himself to the ablest men at court,
perhaps even to Catherine de' Medici herself, the astrologer always
recognized his brother Lorenzo as his master.
Buried in studious solitude, the old savant weighed and estimated
sovereigns, most of whom were worn out by the perpetual turmoil of
politics, the crises of which at this period came so suddenly and were
so keen, so intense, so unexpected. He knew their ennui, their
lassitude, their disgust with things about them; he knew the ardor
with which they sought what seemed to them new or strange or
fantastic; above all, how they loved to enter some unknown
intellectual region to escape their endless struggle with men and
events. To those who have exhausted statecraft, nothing remains but
the realm of pure thought. Charles the Fifth proved this by his
abdication. Charles IX., who wrote sonnets and forged blades to escape
the exhausting cares of an age in which both throne and king were
threatened, to whom royalty had brought only cares and never
pleasures, was likely to be roused to a high pitch of interest by the
bold denial of his power thus uttered by Lorenzo. Religious doubt was
not surprising in an age when Catholicism was so violently arraigned;
but the upsetting of all religion, given as the basis of a strange,
mysterious art, would surely strike the king's mind, and drag it from
its present preoccupations. The essential thing for the two brothers
was to make the king forget his suspicions by turning his mind to new
The Ruggieri were well aware that their stake in this game was their
own life, and the glances, so humble, and yet so proud, which they
exchanged with the searching, suspicious eyes of Marie and the king,
were a scene in themselves.
"Sire," said Lorenzo Ruggiero, "you have asked me for the truth; but,
to show the truth in all her nakedness, I must also show you and make
you sound the depths of the well from which she comes. I appeal to the
gentleman and the poet to pardon words which the eldest son of the
Church might take for blasphemy,--I believe that God does not concern
himself with human affairs."
Though determined to maintain a kingly composure, Charles IX. could
not repress a motion of surprise.
"Without that conviction I should have no faith whatever in the
miraculous work to which my life is devoted. To do that work I must
have this belief; and if the finger of God guides all things, then--I
am a madman. Therefore, let the king understand, once for all, that
this work means a victory to be won over the present course of Nature.
I am an alchemist, sire. But do not think, as the common-minded do,
that I seek to make gold. The making of gold is not the object but an
incident of our researches; otherwise our toil could not be called the
GREAT WORK. The Great Work is something far loftier than that. If,
therefore, I were forced to admit the presence of God in matter, my
voice must logically command the extinction of furnaces kept burning
throughout the ages. But to deny the direct action of God in the world
is not to deny God; do not make that mistake. We place the Creator of
all things far higher than the sphere to which religions have degraded
Him. Do not accuse of atheism those who look for immortality. Like
Lucifer, we are jealous of our God; and jealousy means love. Though
the doctrine of which I speak is the basis of our work, all our
disciples are not imbued with it. Cosmo," said the old man, pointing
to his brother, "Cosmo is devout; he pays for masses for the repose of
our father's soul, and he goes to hear them. Your mother's astrologer
believes in the divinity of Christ, in the Immaculate Conception, in
Transubstantiation; he believes also in the Pope's indulgences and in
hell, and in a multitude of such things. His hour has not yet come. I
have drawn his horoscope; he will live to be almost a centenarian; he
will live through two more reigns, and he will see two kings of France
"Who are they?" asked the king.
"The last of the Valois and the first of the Bourbons," replied
Lorenzo. "But Cosmo shares my opinion. It is impossible to be an
alchemist and a Catholic, to have faith in the despotism of man over
matter, and also in the sovereignty of the divine."
"Cosmo to die a centenarian!" exclaimed the king, with his terrible
frown of the eyebrows.
"Yes, sire," replied Lorenzo, with authority; "and he will die
peaceably in his bed."
"If you have power to foresee the moment of your death, why are you
ignorant of the outcome of your researches?" asked the king.
Charles IX. smiled as he said this, looking triumphantly at Marie
Touchet. The brothers exchanged a rapid glance of satisfaction.
"He begins to be interested," thought they. "We are saved!"
"Our prognostics depend on the immediate relations which exist at the
time between man and Nature; but our purpose itself is to change those
relations entirely," replied Lorenzo.
The king was thoughtful.
"But, if you are certain of dying you are certain of defeat," he said,
"Like our predecessors," replied Lorenzo, raising his hand and letting
it fall again with an emphatic and solemn gesture, which presented
visibly the grandeur of his thought. "But your mind has bounded to the
confines of the matter, sire; we must return upon our steps. If you do
not know the ground on which our edifice is built, you may well think
it doomed to crumble with our lives, and so judge the Science
cultivated from century to century by the greatest among men, as the
common herd judge of it."
The king made a sign of assent.
"I think," continued Lorenzo, "that this earth belongs to man; he is
the master of it, and he can appropriate to his use all forces and all
substances. Man is not a creation issuing directly from the hand of
God; but the development of a principle sown broadcast into the
infinite of ether, from which millions of creatures are produced,--
differing beings in different worlds, because the conditions
surrounding life are varied. Yes, sire, the subtle element which we
call /life/ takes its rise beyond the visible worlds; creation divides
that principle according to the centres into which it flows; and all
beings, even the lowest, share it, taking so much as they can take of
it at their own risk and peril. It is for them to protect themselves
from death,--the whole purpose of alchemy lies there, sire. If man,
the most perfect animal on this globe, bore within himself a portion
of the divine, he would not die; but he does die. To solve this
difficulty, Socrates and his school invented the Soul. I, the
successor of so many great and unknown kings, the rulers of this
science, I stand for the ancient theories, not the new. I believe in
the transformations of matter which I see, and not in the possible
eternity of a soul which I do not see. I do not recognize that world
of the soul. If such a world existed, the substances whose magnificent
conjunction produced your body, and are so dazzling in that of Madame,
would not resolve themselves after your death each into its own
element, water to water, fire to fire, metal to metal, just as the
elements of my coal, when burned, return to their primitive molecules.
If you believe that a certain part of us survives, /we/ do not
survive; for all that makes our actual being perishes. Now, it is this
actual being that I am striving to continue beyond the limit assigned
to life; it is our present transformation to which I wish to give a
greater duration. Why! the trees live for centuries, but man lives
only years, though the former are passive, the others active; the
first motionless and speechless, the others gifted with language and
motion. No created thing should be superior in this world to man,
either in power or in duration. Already we are widening our
perceptions, for we look into the stars; therefore we ought to be able
to lengthen the duration of our lives. I place life before power. What
good is power if life escapes us? A wise man should have no other
purpose than to seek, not whether he has some other life within him,
but the secret springs of his actual form, in order that he may
prolong its existence at his will. That is the desire which has
whitened my hair; but I walk boldly in the darkness, marshalling to
the search all those great intellects that share my faith. Life will
some day be ours,--ours to control."
"Ah! but how?" cried the king, rising hastily.
"The first condition of our faith being that the earth belongs to man,
you must grant me that point," said Lorenzo.
"So be it!" said Charles de Valois, already under the spell.
"Then, sire, if we take God out of this world, what remains? Man. Let
us therefore examine our domain. The material world is composed of
elements; these elements are themselves principles; these principles
resolve themselves into an ultimate principle, endowed with motion.
The number THREE is the formula of creation: Matter, Motion, Product."
"Stop!" cried the king, "what proof is there of this?"
"Do you not see the effects?" replied Lorenzo. "We have tried in our
crucibles the acorn which produces the oak, and the embryo from which
grows a man; from this tiny substance results a single principle, to
which some force, some movement must be given. Since there is no
overruling creator, this principle must give to itself the outward
forms which constitute our world--for this phenomenon of life is the
same everywhere. Yes, for metals as for human beings, for plants as
for men, life begins in an imperceptible embryo which develops itself.
A primitive principle exists; let us seize it at the point where it
begins to act upon itself, where it is a unit, where it is a principle
before taking definite form, a cause before being an effect; we must
see it single, without form, susceptible of clothing itself with all
the outward forms we shall see it take. When we are face to face with
this atomic particle, when we shall have caught its movement at the
very instant of motion, /then/ we shall know the law; thenceforth we
are the masters of life, masters who can impose upon that principle
the form we choose,--with gold to win the world, and the power to make
for ourselves centuries of life in which to enjoy it! That is what my
people and I are seeking. All our strength, all our thoughts are
strained in that direction; nothing distracts us from it. One hour
wasted on any other passion is a theft committed against our true
grandeur. Just as you have never found your hounds relinquishing the
hunted animal or failing to be in at the death, so I have never seen
one of my patient disciples diverted from this great quest by the love
of woman or a selfish thought. If an adept seeks power and wealth, the
desire is instigated by our needs; he grasps treasure as a thirsty dog
laps water while he swims a stream, because his crucibles are in need
of a diamond to melt or an ingot of gold to reduce to powder. To each
his own work. One seeks the secret of vegetable nature; he watches the
slow life of plants; he notes the parity of motion among all the
species, and the parity of their nutrition; he finds everywhere the
need of sun and air and water, to fecundate and nourish them. Another
scrutinizes the blood of animals. A third studies the laws of
universal motion and its connection with celestial revolutions. Nearly
all are eager to struggle with the intractable nature of metal, for
while we find many principles in other things, we find all metals like
unto themselves in every particular. Hence a common error as to our
work. Behold these patient, indefatigable athletes, ever vanquished,
yet ever returning to the combat! Humanity, sire, is behind us, as the
huntsman is behind your hounds. She cries to us: 'Make haste! neglect
nothing! sacrifice all, even a man, ye who sacrifice yourselves!
Hasten! hasten! Beat down the arms of DEATH, mine enemy!' Yes, sire,
we are inspired by a hope which involves the happiness of all coming
generations. We have buried many men--and what men!--dying of this
Search. Setting foot in this career we cannot work for ourselves; we
may die without discovering the Secret; and our death is that of those
who do not believe in another life; it is this life that we have
sought, and failed to perpetuate. We are glorious martyrs; we have the
welfare of the race at heart; we have failed but we live again in our
successors. As we go through this existence we discover secrets with
which we endow the liberal and the mechanical arts. From our furnaces
gleam lights which illumine industrial enterprises, and perfect them.
Gunpowder issued from our alembics; nay, we have mastered the
lightning. In our persistent vigils lie political revolutions."
"Can this be true?" cried the king, springing once more from his
"Why not?" said the grand-master of the new Templars. "/Tradidit
mundum disputationibus/! God has given us the earth. Hear this once
more: man is master here below; matter is his; all forces, all means
are at his disposal. Who created us? Motion. What power maintains life
in us? Motion. Why cannot science seize the secret of that motion?
Nothing is lost here below; nothing escapes from our planet to go
elsewhere,--otherwise the stars would stumble over each other; the
waters of the deluge are still with us in their principle, and not a
drop is lost. Around us, above us, beneath us, are to be found the
elements from which have come innumerable hosts of men who have
crowded the earth before and since the deluge. What is the secret of
our struggle? To discover the force that disunites, and then, /then/
we shall discover that which binds. We are the product of a visible
manufacture. When the waters covered the globe men issued from them
who found the elements of their life in the crust of the earth, in the
air, and in the nourishment derived from them. Earth and air possess,
therefore, the principle of human transformations; those
transformations take place under our eyes, by means of that which is
also under our eyes. We are able, therefore, to discover that secret,
--not limiting the effort of the search to one man or to one age, but
devoting humanity in its duration to it. We are engaged, hand to hand,
in a struggle with Matter, into whose secret, I, the grand-master of
our order, seek to penetrate. Christophe Columbus gave a world to the
King of Spain; I seek an ever-living people for the King of France.
Standing on the confines which separate us from a knowledge of
material things, a patient observer of atoms, I destroy forms, I
dissolve the bonds of combinations; I imitate death that I may learn
how to imitate life. I strike incessantly at the door of creation, and
I shall continue so to strike until the day of my death. When I am
dead the knocker will pass into other hands equally persistent with
those of the mighty men who handed it to me. Fabulous and
uncomprehended beings, like Prometheus, Ixion, Adonis, Pan, and
others, who have entered into the religious beliefs of all countries
and all ages, prove to the world that the hopes we now embody were
born with the human races. Chaldea, India, Persia, Egypt, Greece, the
Moors, have transmitted from one to another Magic, the highest of all
the occult sciences, which holds within it, as a precious deposit the
fruits of the studies of each generation. In it lay the tie that bound
the grand and majestic institution of the Templars. Sire, when one of
your predecessors burned the Templars, he burned men only,--their
Secret lived. The reconstruction of the Temple is a vow of an unknown
nation, a race of daring seekers, whose faces are turned to the Orient
of /life/,--all brothers, all inseparable, all united by one idea, and
stamped with the mark of toil. I am the sovereign leader of that
people, sovereign by election, not by birth. I guide them onward to a
knowledge of the essence of life. Grand-master, Red-Cross-bearers,
companions, adepts, we forever follow the imperceptible molecule which
still escapes our eyes. But soon we shall make ourselves eyes more
powerful than those which Nature has given us; we shall attain to a
sight of the primitive atom, the corpuscular element so persistently
sought by the wise and learned of all ages who have preceded us in the
glorious search. Sire, when a man is astride of that abyss, when he
commands bold divers like my disciples, all other human interests are
as nothing. Therefore we are not dangerous. Religious disputes and
political struggles are far away from us; we have passed beyond and
above them. No man takes others by the throat when his whole strength
is given to a struggle with Nature. Besides, in our science results
are perceivable; we can measure effects and predict them; whereas all
things are uncertain and vacillating in the struggles of men and their
selfish interests. We decompose the diamond in our crucibles, and we
shall make diamonds, we shall make gold! We shall impel vessels (as
they have at Barcelona) with fire and a little water! We test the
wind, and we shall make wind; we shall make light; we shall renew the
face of empires with new industries! But we shall never debase
ourselves to mount a throne to be crucified by the peoples!"
In spite of his strong determination not to be taken in by Italian
wiles, the king, together with his gentle mistress, was already caught
and snared by the ambiguous phrases and doublings of this pompous and
humbugging loquacity. The eyes of the two lovers showed how their
minds were dazzled by the mysterious riches of power thus displayed;
they saw, as it were, a series of subterranean caverns filled with
gnomes at their toil. The impatience of their curiosity put to flight
"But," cried the king, "if this be so, you are great statesmen who can
"No, sire," said Lorenzo, naively.
"Why not?" asked the king.
"Sire, it is not given to any man to foresee what will happen when
thousands of men are gathered together. We can tell what one man will
do, how long he will live, whether he will be happy or unhappy; but we
cannot tell what a collection of wills may do; and to calculate the
oscillations of their selfish interests is more difficult still, for
interests are men /plus/ things. We can, in solitude, see the future
as a whole, and that is all. The Protestantism that now torments you
will be destroyed in turn by its material consequences, which will
turn to theories in due time. Europe is at the present moment getting
the better of religion; to-morrow it will attack royalty."
"Then the Saint-Bartholomew was a great conception?"
"Yes, sire; for if the people triumph it will have a Saint-Bartholomew
of its own. When religion and royalty are destroyed the people will
attack the nobles; after the nobles, the rich. When Europe has become
a mere troop of men without consistence or stability, because without
leaders, it will fall a prey to brutal conquerors. Twenty times
already has the world seen that sight, and Europe is now preparing to
renew it. Ideas consume the ages as passions consume men. When man is
cured, humanity may possibly cure itself. Science is the essence of
humanity, and we are its pontiffs; whoso concerns himself about the
essence cares little about the individual life."
"To what have you attained, so far?" asked the king.
"We advance slowly; but we lose nothing that we have won."
"Then you are the king of sorcerers?" retorted the king, piqued at
being of no account in the presence of this man.
The majestic grand-master of the Rosicrucians cast a look on Charles
IX. which withered him.
"You are the king of men," he said; "I am the king of ideas. If we
were sorcerers, you would already have burned us. We have had our
"But by what means are you able to cast nativities?" persisted the
king. "How did you know that the man who came to your window last
night was King of France? What power authorized one of you to tell my
mother the fate of her three sons? Can you, grand-master of an art
which claims to mould the world, can you tell me what my mother is
planning at this moment?"
This answer was given before Cosmo could pull his brother's robe to
"Do you know why my brother, the King of Poland, has returned?"
"To take your place."
"Our most cruel enemies are our nearest in blood!" exclaimed the king,
violently, rising and walking about the room with hasty steps. "Kings
have neither brothers, nor sons, nor mothers. Coligny was right; my
murderers are not among the Huguenots, but in the Louvre. You are
either imposters or regicides!--Jacob, call Solern."
"Sire," said Marie Touchet, "the Ruggieri have your word as a
gentleman. You wanted to taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge;
do not complain of its bitterness."
The king smiled, with an expression of bitter self-contempt; he
thought his material royalty petty in presence of the august
intellectual royalty of Lorenzo Ruggiero. Charles IX. knew that he
could scarcely govern France, but this grand-master of Rosicrucians
ruled a submissive and intelligent world.
"Answer me truthfully; I pledge my word as a gentleman that your
answer, in case it confesses dreadful crimes, shall be as if it were
never uttered," resumed the king. "Do you deal with poisons?"
"To discover that which gives life, we must also have full knowledge
of that which kills."
"Do you possess the secret of many poisons?"
"Yes, sire,--in theory, but not in practice. We understand all
poisons, but do not use them."
"Has my mother asked you for any?" said the king, breathlessly.
"Sire," replied Lorenzo, "Queen Catherine is too able a woman to
employ such means. She knows that the sovereign who poisons dies by
poison. The Borgias, also Bianca Capello, Grand Duchess of Tuscany,
are noted examples of the dangers of that miserable resource. All
things are known at courts; there can be no concealment. It may be
possible to kill a poor devil--and what is the good of that?--but to
aim at great men cannot be done secretly. Who shot Coligny? It could
only be you, or the queen-mother, or the Guises. Not a soul is
doubtful of that. Believe me, poison cannot be twice used with
impunity in statecraft. Princes have successors. As for other men, if,
like Luther, they are sovereigns through the power of ideas, their
doctrines are not killed by killing them. The queen is from Florence;
she knows that poison should never be used except as a weapon of
personal revenge. My brother, who has not been parted from her since
her arrival in France, knows the grief that Madame Diane caused your
mother. But she never thought of poisoning her, though she might
easily have done so. What could your father have said? Never had a
woman a better right to do it; and she could have done it with
impunity; but Madame de Valentinois still lives."
"But what of those waxen images?" asked the king.
"Sire," said Cosmo, "these things are so absolutely harmless that we
lend ourselves to the practice to satisfy blind passions, just as
physicians give bread pills to imaginary invalids. A disappointed
woman fancies that by stabbing the heart of a wax-figure she has
brought misfortunes upon the head of the man who has been unfaithful
to her. What harm in that? Besides, it is our revenue."
"The Pope sells indulgences," said Lorenzo Ruggiero, smiling.
"Has my mother practised these spells with waxen images?"
"What good would such harmless means be to one who has the actual
power to do all things?"
"Has Queen Catherine the power to save you at this moment?" inquired
the king, in a threatening manner.
"Sire, we are not in any danger," replied Lorenzo, tranquilly. "I knew
before I came into this house that I should leave it safely, just as I
know that the king will be evilly disposed to my brother Cosmo a few
weeks hence. My brother may run some danger then, but he will escape
it. If the king reigns by the sword, he also reigns by justice," added
the old man, alluding to the famous motto on a medal struck for
"You know all, and you know that I shall die soon, which is very
well," said the king, hiding his anger under nervous impatience; "but
how will my brother die,--he whom you say is to be Henri III.?"
"By a violent death."
"And the Duc d'Alencon?"
"He will not reign."
"Then Henri de Bourbon will be king of France?"
"How will he die?"
"By a violent death."
"When I am dead what will become of madame?" asked the king, motioning
to Marie Touchet.
"Madame de Belleville will marry, sire."
"You are imposters!" cried Marie Touchet. "Send them away, sire."
"Dearest, the Ruggieri have my word as a gentleman," replied the king,
smiling. "Will madame have children?" he continued.
"Yes, sire; and madame will live to be more than eighty years old."
"Shall I order them to be hanged?" said the king to his mistress. "But
about my son, the Comte d'Auvergne?" he continued, going into the next
room to fetch the child.
"Why did you tell him I should marry?" said Marie to the two brothers,
the moment they were alone.
"Madame," replied Lorenzo, with dignity, "the king bound us to tell
the truth, and we have told it."
"/Is/ that true?" she exclaimed.
"As true as it is that the governor of the city of Orleans is madly in
love with you."
"But I do not love him," she cried.
"That is true, madame," replied Lorenzo; "but your horoscope declares
that you will marry the man who is in love with you at the present
"Can you not lie a little for my sake?" she said smiling; "for if the
king believes your predictions--"
"Is it not also necessary that he should believe our innocence?"
interrupted Cosmo, with a wily glance at the young favorite. "The
precautions taken against us by the king have made us think during the
time we have spent in your charming jail that the occult sciences have
been traduced to him."
"Do not feel uneasy," replied Marie. "I know him; his suspicions are
at an end."
"We are innocent," said the grand-master of the Rosicrucians, proudly.
"So much the better for you," said Marie, "for your laboratory, and
your retorts and phials are now being searched by order of the king."
The brothers looked at each other smiling. Marie Touchet took that
smile for one of innocence, though it really signified: "Poor fools!
can they suppose that if we brew poisons, we do not hide them?"
"Where are the king's searchers?"
"In Rene's laboratory," replied Marie.
Again the brothers glanced at each other with a look which said: "The
hotel de Soissons is inviolable."
The king had so completely forgotten his suspicions that when, as he
took his boy in his arms, Jacob gave him a note from Chapelain, he
opened it with the certainty of finding in his physician's report that
nothing had been discovered in the laboratory but what related
exclusively to alchemy.
"Will he live a happy man?" asked the king, presenting his son to the
"That is a question which concerns Cosmo," replied Lorenzo, signing
Cosmo took the tiny hand of the child, and examined it carefully.
"Monsieur," said Charles IX. to the old man, "if you find it necessary
to deny the existence of the soul in order to believe in the
possibility of your enterprise, will you explain to my why you should
doubt what your power does? Thought, which you seek to nullify, is the
certainty, the torch which lights your researches. Ha! ha! is not that
the motion of a spirit within you, while you deny such motion?" cried
the king, pleased with his argument, and looking triumphantly at his
"Thought," replied Lorenzo Ruggiero, "is the exercise of an inward
sense; just as the faculty of seeing several objects and noticing
their size and color is an effect of sight. It has no connection with
what people choose to call another life. Thought is a faculty which
ceases, with the forces which produced it, when we cease to breathe."
"You are logical," said the king, surprised. "But alchemy must
therefore be an atheistical science.'
"A materialist science, sire, which is a very different thing.
Materialism is the outcome of Indian doctrines, transmitted through
the mysteries of Isis to Chaldea and Egypt, and brought to Greece by
Pythagoras, one of the demigods of humanity. His doctrine of
re-incarnation is the mathematics of materialism, the vital law of its
phases. To each of the different creations which form the terrestrial
creation belongs the power of retarding the movement which sweeps on
"Alchemy is the science of sciences!" cried Charles IX.,
enthusiastically. "I want to see you at work."
"Whenever it pleases you, sire; you cannot be more interested than
Madame the Queen-mother."
"Ah! so this is why she cares for you?" exclaimed the king.
"The house of Medici has secretly protected our Search for more than a
"Sire," said Cosmo, "this child will live nearly a hundred years; he
will have trials; nevertheless, he will be happy and honored, because
he has in his veins the blood of the Valois."
"I will go and see you in your laboratory, messieurs," said the king,
his good-humor quite restored. "You may now go."
The brothers bowed to Marie and to the king and then withdrew. They
went down the steps of the portico gravely, without looking or
speaking to each other; neither did they turn their faces to the
windows as they crossed the courtyard, feeling sure that the king's
eye watched them. But as they passed sideways out of the gate into the
street they looked back and saw Charles IX. gazing after them from a
window. When the alchemist and the astrologer were safely in the rue
de l'Autruche, they cast their eyes before and behind them, to see if
they were followed or overheard; then they continued their way to the
moat of the Louvre without uttering a word. Once there, however,
feeling themselves securely alone, Lorenzo said to Cosmo, in the
Tuscan Italian of that day:--
"Affe d'Iddio! how we have fooled him!"
"Much good may it do him; let him make what he can of it!" said Cosmo.
"We have given him a helping hand,--whether the queen pays it back to
us or not."
Some days after this scene, which struck the king's mistress as
forcibly as it did the king, Marie suddenly exclaimed, in one of those
moments when the soul seems, as it were, disengaged from the body in
the plenitude of happiness:--
"Charles, I understand Lorenzo Ruggiero; but did you observe that
Cosmo said nothing?"
"True," said the king, struck by that sudden light. "After all, there
was as much falsehood as truth in what they said. Those Italians are
as supple as the silk they weave."
This suspicion explains the rancor which the king showed against Cosmo
when the trial of La Mole and Coconnas took place a few weeks later.
Finding him one of the agents of that conspiracy, he thought the
Italians had tricked him; for it was proved that his mother's
astrologer was not exclusively concerned with stars, the powder of
projection, and the primitive atom. Lorenzo had by that time left the
In spite of the incredulity which most persons show in these matters,
the events which followed the scene we have narrated confirmed the
predictions of the Ruggieri.
The king died within three months.
Charles de Gondi followed Charles IX. to the grave, as had been
foretold to him jestingly by his brother the Marechal de Retz, a
friend of the Ruggieri, who believed in their predictions.
Marie Touchet married Charles de Balzac, Marquis d'Entragues, the
governor of Orleans, by whom she had two daughters. The most
celebrated of these daughters, the half-sister of the Comte
d'Auvergne, was the mistress of Henri IV., and it was she who
endeavored, at the time of Biron's conspiracy, to put her brother on
the throne of France by driving out the Bourbons.
The Comte d'Auvergne, who became the Duc d'Angouleme, lived into the
reign of Louis XIV. He coined money on his estates and altered the
inscriptions; but Louis XIV. let him do as he pleased, out of respect
for the blood of the Valois.
Cosmo Ruggiero lived till the middle of the reign of Louis XIII.; he
witnessed the fall of the house of the Medici in France, also that of
the Concini. History has taken pains to record that he died an
atheist, that is, a materialist.
The Marquise d'Entragues was over eighty when she died.
The famous Comte de Saint-Germain, who made so much noise under Louis
XIV., was a pupil of Lorenzo and Cosmo Ruggiero. This celebrated
alchemist lived to be one hundred and thirty years old,--an age which
some biographers give to Marion de Lorme. He must have heard from the
Ruggieri the various incidents of the Saint-Bartholomew and of the
reigns of the Valois kings, which he afterwards recounted in the first
person singular, as though he had played a part in them. The Comte de
Saint-Germain was the last of the alchemists who knew how to clearly
explain their science; but he left no writings. The cabalistic
doctrine presented in this Study is that taught by this mysterious
And here, behold a strange thing! Three lives, that of the old man
from whom I have obtained these facts, that of the Comte de Saint-
Germain, and that of Cosmo Ruggiero, suffice to cover the whole of
European history from Francois I. to Napoleon! Only fifty such lives
are needed to reach back to the first known period of the world. "What
are fifty generations for the study of the mysteries of life?" said
the Comte de Saint-Germain.
In 1786 Bodard de Saint-James, treasurer of the navy, excited more
attention and gossip as to his luxury than any other financier in
Paris. At this period he was building his famous "Folie" at Neuilly,
and his wife had just bought a set of feathers to crown the tester of
her bed, the price of which had been too great for even the queen to
Bodard owned the magnificent mansion in the place Vendome, which the
/fermier-general/, Dange, had lately been forced to leave. That
celebrated epicurean was now dead, and on the day of his interment his
intimate friend, Monsieur de Bievre, raised a laugh by saying that he
"could now pass through the place Vendome without /danger/." This
allusion to the hellish gambling which went on in the dead man's
house, was his only funeral oration. The house is opposite to the
To end in a few words the history of Bodard,--he became a poor man,
having failed for fourteen millions after the bankruptcy of the Prince
de Guemenee. The stupidity he showed in not anticipating that
"serenissime disaster," to use the expression of Lebrun Pindare, was
the reason why no notice was taken of his misfortunes. He died, like
Bourvalais, Bouret, and so many others, in a garret.
Madame Bodard de Saint-James was ambitious, and professed to receive
none but persons of quality at her house,--an old absurdity which is
ever new. To her thinking, even the parliamentary judges were of small
account; she wished for titled persons in her salons, or at all
events, those who had the right of entrance at court. To say that many
/cordons bleus/ were seen at her house would be false; but it is quite
certain that she managed to obtain the good-will and civilities of
several members of the house of Rohan, as was proved later in the
affair of the too celebrated diamond necklace.
One evening--it was, I think, in August, 1786--I was much surprised to
meet in the salons of this lady, so exacting in the matter of
gentility, two new faces which struck me as belonging to men of
inferior social position. She came to me presently in the embrasure of
a window where I had ensconced myself.
"Tell me," I said to her, with a glance toward one of the new-comers,
"who and what is that queer species? Why do you have that kind of
"He is charming."
"Do you see him through a prism of love, or am I blind?"
"You are not blind," she said, laughing. "The man is as ugly as a
caterpillar; but he has done me the most immense service a woman can
receive from a man."
As I looked at her rather maliciously she hastened to add: "He's a
physician, and he has completely cured me of those odious red blotches
which spoiled my complexion and made me look like a peasant woman."
I shrugged my shoulders with disgust.
"He is a charlatan."
"No," she said, "he is the surgeon of the court pages. He has a fine
intellect, I assure you; in fact, he is a writer, and a very learned
"Heavens! if his style resembles his face!" I said scoffingly. "But
who is the other?"
"That spruce, affected little popinjay over there, who looks as if he
had been drinking verjuice."
"He is a rather well-born man," she replied; "just arrived from some
province, I forget which--oh! from Artois. He is sent here to conclude
an affair in which the Cardinal de Rohan is interested, and his
Eminence in person had just presented him to Monsieur de Saint-James.
It seems they have both chosen my husband as arbitrator. The
provincial didn't show his wisdom in that; but fancy what simpletons
the people who sent him here must be to trust a case to a man of his
sort! He is as meek as a sheep and as timid as a girl. His Eminence is
very kind to him."
"What is the nature of the affair?"
"Oh! a question of three hundred thousand francs."
"Then the man is a lawyer?" I said, with a slight shrug.
"Yes," she replied.
Somewhat confused by this humiliating avowal, Madame Bodard returned
to her place at a faro-table.
All the tables were full. I had nothing to do, no one to speak to, and
I had just lost two thousand crowns to Monsieur de Laval. I flung
myself on a sofa near the fireplace. Presently, if there was ever a
man on earth most utterly astonished it was I, when, on looking up, I
saw, seated on another sofa on the opposite side of the fireplace,
Monsieur de Calonne, the comptroller-general. He seemed to be dozing,
or else he was buried in one of those deep meditations which overtake
statesmen. When I pointed out the famous minister to Beaumarchais, who
happened to come near me at that moment, the father of Figaro
explained the mystery of his presence in that house without uttering a
word. He pointed first at my head, then at Bodard's with a malicious
gesture which consisted in turning to each of us two fingers of his
hand while he kept the others doubled up. My first impulse was to rise
and say something rousing to Calonne; then I paused, first, because I
thought of a trick I could play the statesman, and secondly, because
Beaumarchais caught me familiarly by the hand.
"Why do you do that, monsieur?" I said.
He winked at the comptroller.
"Don't wake him," he said in a low voice. "A man is happy when
"Pray, is sleep a financial scheme?" I whispered.
"Indeed, yes!" said Calonne, who had guessed our words from the mere
motion of our lips. "Would to God we could sleep long, and then the
awakening you are about to see would never happen."
"Monseigneur," said the dramatist, "I must thank you--"
"Monsieur de Mirabeau has started for Berlin. I don't know whether we
might not both have drowned ourselves in that affair of 'les Eaux.'"
"You have too much memory, and too little gratitude," replied the
minister, annoyed at having one of his secrets divulged in my
"Possibly," said Beaumarchais, cut to the quick; "but I have millions
that can balance many a score."
Calonne pretended not to hear.
It was long past midnight when the play ceased. Supper was announced.
There were ten of us at table: Bodard and his wife, Calonne,
Beaumarchais, the two strange men, two pretty women, whose names I
will not give here, a /fermier-general/, Lavoisier, and myself. Out of
thirty guests who were in the salon when I entered it, only these ten
remained. The two /queer species/ did not consent to stay until they
were urged to do so by Madame Bodard, who probably thought she was
paying her obligations to the surgeon by giving him something to eat,
and pleasing her husband (with whom she appeared, I don't precisely
know why, to be coquetting) by inviting the lawyer.
The supper began by being frightfully dull. The two strangers and the
/fermier-general/ oppressed us. I made a sign to Beaumarchais to
intoxicate the son of Esculapius, who sat on his right, giving him to
understand that I would do the same by the lawyer, who was next to me.
As there seemed no other way to amuse ourselves, and it offered a
chance to draw out the two men, who were already sufficiently
singular, Monsieur de Calonne smiled at our project. The ladies
present also shared in the bacchanal conspiracy, and the wine of
Sillery crowned our glasses again and again with its silvery foam. The
surgeon was easily managed; but at the second glass which I offered to
my neighbor the lawyer, he told me with the frigid politeness of a
usurer that he should drink no more.
At this instant Madame de Saint-James chanced to introduce, I scarcely
know how, the topic of the marvellous suppers to the Comte de
Cagliostro, given by the Cardinal de Rohan. My mind was not very
attentive to what the mistress of the house was saying, because I was
watching with extreme curiosity the pinched and livid face of my
little neighbor, whose principal feature was a turned-up and at the
same time pointed nose, which made him, at times, look very like a
weasel. Suddenly his cheeks flushed as he caught the words of a
dispute between Madame de Saint-James and Monsieur de Calonne.
"But I assure you, monsieur," she was saying, with an imperious air,
"that I /saw/ Cleopatra, the queen."
"I can believe it, madame," said my neighbor, "for I myself have
spoken to Catherine de' Medici."
"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Monsieur de Calonne.
The words uttered by the little provincial were said in a voice of
strange sonorousness, if I may be permitted to borrow that expression
from the science of physics. This sudden clearness of intonation,
coming from a man who had hitherto scarcely spoken, and then in a low
and modulated tone, surprised all present exceedingly.
"Why, he is talking!" said the surgeon, who was now in a satisfactory
state of drunkenness, addressing Beaumarchais.
"His neighbor must have pulled his wires," replied the satirist.
My man flushed again as he overheard the words, though they were said
in a low voice.
"And pray, how was the late queen?" asked Calonne, jestingly.
"I will not swear that the person with whom I supped last night at the
house of the Cardinal de Rohan was Catherine de' Medici in person.
That miracle would justly seem impossible to Christians as well as to
philosophers," said the little lawyer, resting the tips of his fingers
on the table, and leaning back in his chair as if preparing to make a
speech. "Nevertheless, I do assert that the woman I saw resembled
Catherine de' Medici as closely as though they were twin-sisters. She
was dressed in a black velvet gown, precisely like that of the queen
in the well-known portrait which belongs to the king; on her head was
the pointed velvet coif, which is characteristic of her; and she had
the wan complexion, and the features we all know well. I could not
help betraying my surprise to his Eminence. The suddenness of the
evocation seemed to me all the more amazing because Monsieur de
Cagliostro had been unable to divine the name of the person with whom
I wished to communicate. I was confounded. The magical spectacle of a
supper, where one of the illustrious women of past times presented
herself, took from me my presence of mind. I listened without daring
to question. When I roused myself about midnight from the spell of
that magic, I was inclined to doubt my senses. But even this great
marvel seemed natural in comparison with the singular hallucination to
which I was presently subjected. I don't know in what words I can
describe to you the state of my senses. But I declare, in the
sincerity of my heart, I no longer wonder that souls have been found
weak enough, or strong enough, to believe in the mysteries of magic
and in the power of demons. For myself, until I am better informed, I
regard as possible the apparitions which Cardan and other
These words, said with indescribable eloquence of tone, were of a
nature to rouse the curiosity of all present. We looked at the speaker
and kept silence; our eyes alone betrayed our interest, their pupils
reflecting the light of the wax-candles in the sconces. By dint of
observing this unknown little man, I fancied I could see the pores of
his skin, especially those of his forehead, emitting an inward
sentiment with which he was saturated. This man, apparently so cold
and formal, seemed to contain within him a burning altar, the flames
of which beat down upon us.
"I do not know," he continued, "if the Figure evoked followed me
invisibly, but no sooner had my head touched the pillow in my own
chamber than I saw once more that grand Shade of Catherine rise before
me. I felt myself, instinctively, in a luminous sphere, and my eyes,
fastened upon the queen with intolerable fixity, saw naught but her.
Suddenly, she bent toward me."
At these words the ladies present made a unanimous movement of
"But," continued the lawyer, "I am not sure that I ought to relate
what happened, for though I am inclined to believe it was all a dream,
it concerns grave matters.
"Of religion?" asked Beaumarchais.
"If there is any impropriety," remarked Calonne, "these ladies will
"It relates to the government," replied the lawyer.
"Go on, then," said the minister; "Voltaire, Diderot, and their
fellows have already begun to tutor us on that subject."
Calonne became very attentive, and his neighbor, Madame de Genlis,
rather anxious. The little provincial still hesitated, and
Beaumarchais said to him somewhat roughly:--
"Go on, /maitre/, go on! Don't you know that when the laws allow but
little liberty the people seek their freedom in their morals?"
Thus adjured, the small man told his tale:--
"Whether it was that certain ideas were fermenting in my brain, or
that some strange power impelled me, I said to her: 'Ah! madame, you
committed a very great crime.' 'What crime?' she asked in a grave
voice. 'The crime for which the signal was given from the clock of the
palace on the 24th of August,' I answered. She smiled disdainfully,
and a few deep wrinkles appeared on her pallid cheeks. 'You call that
a crime which was only a misfortune,' she said. 'The enterprise, being
ill-managed, failed; the benefit we expected for France, for Europe,
for the Catholic Church was lost. Impossible to foresee that. Our
orders were ill executed; we did not find as many Montlucs as we
needed. Posterity will not hold us responsible for the failure of
communications, which deprived our work of the unity of movement which
is essential to all great strokes of policy; that was our misfortune!
If on the 25th of August not the shadow of a Huguenot had been left in
France, I should go down to the uttermost posterity as a noble image
of Providence. How many, many times have the clear-sighted souls of
Sixtus the Fifth, Richelieu, Bossuet, reproached me secretly for
having failed in that enterprise after having the boldness to conceive
it! How many and deep regrets for that failure attended my deathbed!
Thirty years after the Saint-Bartholomew the evil it might have cured
was still in existence. That failure caused ten times more blood to
flow in France than if the massacre of August 24th had been completed
on the 26th. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in honor of which
you have struck medals, has cost more tears, more blood, more money,
and killed the prosperity of France far more than three Saint-
Bartholomews. Letellier with his pen gave effect to a decree which the
throne had secretly promulgated since my time; but, though the vast
execution was necessary of the 25th of August, 1572, on the 25th of
August, 1685, it was useless. Under the second son of Henri de Valois
heresy had scarcely conceived an offspring; under the second son of
Henri de Bourbon that teeming mother had cast her spawn over the whole
universe. You accuse me of a crime, and you put up statues to the son
of Anne of Austria! Nevertheless, he and I attempted the same thing;
he succeeded, I failed; but Louis XIV. found the Protestants without
arms, whereas in my reign they had powerful armies, statesmen,
warriors, and all Germany on their side.' At these words, slowly
uttered, I felt an inward shudder pass through me. I fancied I
breathed the fumes of blood from I know not what great mass of
victims. Catherine was magnified. She stood before me like an evil
genius; she sought, it seemed to me, to enter my consciousness and
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