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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    HANNIBAL DE SAULX, COMTE DE TAVANNES.

    "Tavannes!"

    "Sire."

    Tavannes, we know, had been slow to obey the summons. Emerging from the
    crowd, he found that the King, with Retz and Rambouillet, his Marshal des
    Logis, had retired to the farther end of the Chamber; apparently Charles
    had forgotten that he had called. His head a little bent--he was tall
    and had a natural stoop--the King seemed to be listening to a low but
    continuous murmur of voices which proceeded from the door of his closet.
    One voice frequently raised was beyond doubt a woman's; a foreign accent,
    smooth and silky, marked another; a third, that from time to time broke
    in, wilful and impetuous, was the voice of Monsieur, the King's brother,
    Catherine de Medicis' favourite son. Tavannes, waiting respectfully two
    paces behind the King, could catch little that was said; but Charles,
    something more, it seemed, for on a sudden he laughed, a violent,
    mirthless laugh. And he clapped Rambouillet on the shoulder.

    "There!" he said, with one of his horrible oaths, "'tis settled! 'Tis
    settled! Go, man, and take your orders! And you, M. de Retz," he
    continued, in a tone of savage mockery, "go, my lord, and give them!"

    "I, sire?" the Italian Marshal answered, in accents of deprecation. There
    were times when the young King would show his impatience of the Italian
    ring, the Retzs and Biragues, the Strozzis and Gondys, with whom his
    mother surrounded him.

    "Yes, you!" Charles answered. "You and my lady mother! And in God's
    name answer for it at the day!" he continued vehemently. "You will have
    it! You will not let me rest till you have it! Then have it, only see
    to it, it be done thoroughly! There shall not be one left to cast it in
    the King's teeth and cry, 'Et tu, Carole!' Swim, swim in blood if you
    will," he continued, with growing wildness. "Oh, 'twill be a merry
    night! And it's true so far, you may kill fleas all day, but burn the
    coat, and there's an end. So burn it, burn it, and--" He broke off with
    a start as he discovered Tavannes at his elbow. "God's death, man!" he
    cried roughly, "who sent for you?"

    "Your Majesty called me," Tavannes answered; while, partly urged by the
    King's hand, and partly anxious to escape, the others slipped into the
    closet and left them together.

    "I sent for you? I called your brother, the Marshal!"

    "He is within, sire," Tavannes answered, indicating the closet. "A
    moment ago I heard his voice."

    Charles passed his shaking hand across his eyes. "Is he?" he muttered.
    "So he is! I heard it too. And--and a man cannot be in two places at
    once!" Then, while his haggard gaze, passing by Tavannes, roved round
    the Chamber, he laid his hand on Count Hannibal's breast. "They give me
    no peace, Madame and the Guises," he whispered, his face hectic with
    excitement. "They will have it. They say that Coligny--they say that he
    beards me in my own palace. And--and, _mordieu_," with sudden violence,
    "it's true. It's true enough! It was but to-day he was for making terms
    with me! With me, the King! Making terms! So it shall be, by God and
    Devil, it shall! But not six or seven! No, no. All! All! There shall
    not be one left to say to me, 'You did it!'"

    "Softly, sire," Tavannes answered; for Charles had gradually raised his
    voice. "You will be observed."

    For the first time the young King--he was but twenty-two years old, God
    pity him!--looked at his companion.

    "To be sure," he whispered; and his eyes grew cunning. "Besides, and
    after all, there's another way, if I choose. Oh, I've thought and
    thought, I'd have you know." And shrugging his shoulders, almost to his
    ears, he raised and lowered his open hands alternately, while his back
    hid the movement from the Chamber. "See-saw! See-saw!" he muttered.
    "And the King between the two, you see. That's Madame's king-craft.
    She's shown me that a hundred times. But look you, it is as easy to
    lower the one as the other," with a cunning glance at Tavannes' face, "or
    to cut off the right as the left. And--and the Admiral's an old man and
    will pass; and for the matter of that I like to hear him talk. He talks
    well. While the others, Guise and his kind, are young, and I've thought,
    oh, yes, I've thought--but there," with a sudden harsh laugh, "my lady
    mother will have it her own way. And for this time she shall, but, All!
    All! Even Foucauld, there! Do you mark him. He's sorting the cards. Do
    you see him--as he will be to-morrow, with the slit in his throat and his
    teeth showing? Why, God!" his voice rising almost to a scream, "the
    candles by him are burning blue!" And with a shaking hand, his face
    convulsed, the young King clutched his companion's arm, and pinched it.

    Count Hannibal shrugged his shoulders, but answered nothing.

    "D'you think we shall see them afterwards?" Charles resumed, in a sharp,
    eager whisper. "In our dreams, man? Or when the watchman cries, and we
    awake, and the monks are singing lauds at St. Germain, and--and the taper
    is low?"

    Tavannes' lip curled. "I don't dream, sire," he answered coldly, "and I
    seldom wake. For the rest, I fear my enemies neither alive nor dead."

    "Don't you? By G-d, I wish I didn't," the young man exclaimed. His brow
    was wet with sweat. "I wish I didn't. But there, it's settled. They've
    settled it, and I would it were done! What do you think of--of it, man?
    What do you think of it, yourself?"

    Count Hannibal's face was inscrutable. "I think nothing, sire," he said
    dryly. "It is for your Majesty and your council to think. It is enough
    for me that it is the King's will."

    "But you'll not flinch?" Charles muttered, with a quick look of
    suspicion. "But there," with a monstrous oath, "I know you'll not! I
    believe you'd as soon kill a monk--though, thank God," and he crossed
    himself devoutly, "there is no question of that--as a man. And sooner
    than a maiden."

    "Much sooner, sire," Tavannes answered grimly. "If you have any orders
    in the monkish direction--no? Then your Majesty must not talk to me
    longer. M. de Rochefoucauld is beginning to wonder what is keeping your
    Majesty from your game. And others are marking you, sire."

    "By the Lord!" Charles exclaimed, a ring of wonder mingled with horror in
    his tone, "if they knew what was in our minds they'd mark us more! Yet,
    see Nancay there beside the door? He is unmoved. He looks to-day as he
    looked yesterday. Yet he has charge of the work in the palace--"

    For the first time Tavannes allowed a movement of surprise to escape him.

    "In the palace?" he muttered. "Is it to be done here, too, sire?"

    "Would you let some escape, to return by-and-by and cut our throats?" the
    King retorted, with a strange spirt of fury; an incapacity to maintain
    the same attitude of mind for two minutes together was the most fatal
    weakness of his ill-balanced nature. "No. All! All!" he repeated with
    vehemence. "Didn't Noah people the earth with eight? But I'll not leave
    eight! My cousins, for they are blood-royal, shall live if they will
    recant. And my old nurse, whether or no. And Pare, for no one else
    understands my complexion. And--"

    "And Rochefoucauld, doubtless, sire?"

    The King, whose eye had sought his favourite companion, withdrew it. He
    darted a glance at Tavannes.

    "Foucauld? Who said so?" he muttered jealously. "Not I! But we shall
    see. We shall see! And do you see that you spare no one, M. le Comte,
    without an order. That is your business."

    "I understand, sire," Tavannes answered coolly. And after a moment's
    silence, seeing that the King had done with him, he bowed low and
    withdrew; watched by the circle, as all about a King were watched in the
    days when a King's breath meant life or death, and his smile made the
    fortunes of men. As he passed Rochefoucauld, the latter looked up and
    nodded.

    "What keeps brother Charles?" he muttered. "He's madder than ever to-
    night. Is it a masque or a murder he is planning?"

    "The vapours," Tavannes answered, with a sneer. "Old tales his old nurse
    has stuffed him withal. He'll come by-and-by, and 'twill be well if you
    can divert him."

    "I will, if he come," Rochefoucauld answered, shuffling the cards. "If
    not 'tis Chicot's business, and he should attend to it. I'm tired, and
    shall to bed."

    "He will come," Tavannes answered, and moved, as if to go on. Then he
    paused for a last word. "He will come," he muttered, stooping and
    speaking under his breath, his eyes on the other's face. "But play him
    lightly. He is in an ugly mood. Please him, if you can, and it may
    serve."

    The eyes of the two met an instant, and those of Foucauld--so the King
    called his Huguenot favourite--betrayed some surprise; for Count Hannibal
    and he were not intimate. But seeing that the other was in earnest, he
    raised his brows in acknowledgment. Tavannes nodded carelessly in
    return, looked an instant at the cards on the table, and passed on,
    pushed his way through the circle, and reached the door. He was lifting
    the curtain to go out, when Nancay, the Captain of the Guard, plucked his
    sleeve.

    "What have you been saying to Foucauld, M. de Tavannes?" he muttered.

    "I?"

    "Yes," with a jealous glance, "you, M. le Comte."

    Count Hannibal looked at him with the sudden ferocity that made the man a
    proverb at Court.

    "What I chose, M. le Capitaine des Suisses!" he hissed. And his hand
    closed like a vice on the other's wrist. "What I chose, look you! And
    remember, another time, that I am not a Huguenot, and say what I please."

    "But there is great need of care," Nancay protested, stammering and
    flinching. "And--and I have orders, M. le Comte."

    "Your orders are not for me," Tavannes answered, releasing his arm with a
    contemptuous gesture. "And look you, man, do not cross my path to-night.
    You know our motto? Who touches my brother, touches Tavannes! Be warned
    by it."

    Nancay scowled. "But the priests say, 'If your hand offend you, cut it
    off!'" he muttered.

    Tavannes laughed, a sinister laugh. "If you offend me I'll cut your
    throat," he said; and with no ceremony he went out, and dropped the
    curtain behind him.

    Nancay looked after him, his face pale with rage. "Curse him!" he
    whispered, rubbing his wrist. "If he were any one else I would teach
    him! But he would as soon run you through in the presence as in the Pre
    aux Clercs! And his brother, the Marshal, has the King's ear! And
    Madame Catherine's too, which is worse!"

    He was still fuming, when an officer in the colours of Monsieur, the
    King's brother, entered hurriedly, and keeping his hand on the curtain,
    looked anxiously round the Chamber. As soon as his eye found Nancay, his
    face cleared.

    "Have you the reckoning?" he muttered.

    "There are seventeen Huguenots in the palace besides their Highnesses,"
    Nancay replied, in the same cautious tone. "Not counting two or three
    who are neither the one thing nor the other. In addition, there are the
    two Montmorencies; but they are to go safe for fear of their brother, who
    is not in the trap. He is too like his father, the old Bench-burner, to
    be lightly wronged! And, besides, there is Pare, who is to go to his
    Majesty's closet as soon as the gates are shut. If the King decides to
    save any one else, he will send him to his closet. So 'tis all clear and
    arranged here. If you are forward outside, it will be well! Who deals
    with the gentleman with the tooth-pick?"

    "The Admiral? Monsieur, Guise, and the Grand Prior; Cosseins and Besme
    have charge. 'Tis to be done first. Then the Provost will raise the
    town. He will have a body of stout fellows ready at three or four
    rendezvous, so that the fire may blaze up everywhere at once. Marcel,
    the ex-provost, has the same commission south of the river. Orders to
    light the town as for a frolic have been given, and the Halles will be
    ready."

    Nancay nodded, reflected a moment, and then with an involuntary shudder--

    "God!" he exclaimed, "it will shake the world!"

    "You think so?"

    "Ay, will it not!" His next words showed that he bore Tavannes' warning
    in mind. "For me, my friend, I go in mail to-night," he said. "There
    will be many a score paid before morning, besides his Majesty's. And
    many a left-handed blow will be struck in the _melee_!"

    The other crossed himself. "Grant none light here!" he said devoutly.
    And with a last look he nodded and went out.

    In the doorway he jostled a person who was in the act of entering. It
    was M. de Tignonville, who, seeing Nancay at his elbow, saluted him, and
    stood looking round. The young man's face was flushed, his eyes were
    bright with unwonted excitement.

    "M. de Rochefoucauld?" he asked eagerly. "He has not left yet?"

    Nancay caught the thrill in his voice, and marked the young man's flushed
    face and altered bearing. He noted, too, the crumpled paper he carried
    half-hidden in his hand; and the Captain's countenance grew dark. He
    drew a step nearer, and his hand reached softly for his dagger. But his
    voice, when he spoke, was smooth as the surface of the pleasure-loving
    Court, smooth as the externals of all things in Paris that summer
    evening.

    "He is here still," he said. "Have you news, M. de Tignonville?"

    "News?"

    "For M. de Rochefoucauld?"

    Tignonville laughed. "No," he said. "I am here to see him to his
    lodging, that is all. News, Captain? What made you think so?"

    "That which you have in your hand," Nancay answered, his fears relieved.

    The young man blushed to the roots of his hair. "It is not for him," he
    said.

    "I can see that, Monsieur," Nancay answered politely. "He has his
    successes, but all the billets-doux do not go one way."

    The young man laughed, a conscious, flattered laugh. He was handsome,
    with such a face as women love, but there was a lack of ease in the way
    he wore his Court suit. It was a trifle finer, too, than accorded with
    Huguenot taste; or it looked the finer for the way he wore it, even as
    Teligny's and Foucauld's velvet capes and stiff brocades lost their
    richness and became but the adjuncts, fitting and graceful, of the men.
    Odder still, as Tignonville laughed, half hiding and half revealing the
    dainty scented paper in his hand, his clothes seemed smarter and he more
    awkward than usual.

    "It is from a lady," he admitted. "But a bit of badinage, I assure you,
    nothing more!"

    "Understood!" M. de Nancay murmured politely. "I congratulate you."

    "But--"

    "I say I congratulate you!"

    "But it is nothing."

    "Oh, I understand. And see, the King is about to rise. Go forward,
    Monsieur," he continued benevolently. "A young man should show himself.
    Besides, his Majesty likes you well," he added, with a leer. He had an
    unpleasant sense of humour, had his Majesty's Captain of the Guard; and
    this evening somewhat more than ordinary on which to exercise it.

    Tignonville held too good an opinion of himself to suspect the other of
    badinage; and thus encouraged, he pushed his way to the front of the
    circle. During his absence with his betrothed, the crowd in the Chamber
    had grown thin, the candles had burned an inch shorter in the sconces.
    But though many who had been there had left, the more select remained,
    and the King's return to his seat had given the company a fillip. An air
    of feverish gaiety, common in the unhealthy life of the Court, prevailed.
    At a table abreast of the King, Montpensier and Marshal Cosse were dicing
    and disputing, with now a yell of glee, and now an oath, that betrayed
    which way fortune inclined. At the back of the King's chair, Chicot, his
    gentleman-jester, hung over Charles's shoulder, now scanning his cards,
    and now making hideous faces that threw the on-lookers into fits of
    laughter. Farther up the Chamber, at the end of the alcove, Marshal
    Tavannes--our Hannibal's brother--occupied a low stool, which was set
    opposite the open door of the closet. Through this doorway a slender
    foot, silk-clad, shot now and again into sight; it came, it vanished, it
    came again, the gallant Marshal striving at each appearance to rob it of
    its slipper, a dainty jewelled thing of crimson velvet. He failed
    thrice, a peal of laughter greeting each failure. At the fourth essay,
    he upset his stool and fell to the floor, but held the slipper. And not
    the slipper only, but the foot. Amid a flutter of silken skirts and
    dainty laces--while the hidden beauty shrilly protested--he dragged first
    the ankle, and then a shapely leg into sight. The circle applauded; the
    lady, feeling herself still drawn on, screamed loudly and more loudly.
    All save the King and his opponent turned to look. And then the sport
    came to a sudden end. A sinewy hand appeared, interposed, released; for
    an instant the dark, handsome face of Guise looked through the doorway.
    It was gone as soon as seen; it was there a second only. But more than
    one recognised it, and wondered. For was not the young Duke in evil
    odour with the King by reason of the attack on the Admiral? And had he
    not been chased from Paris only that morning and forbidden to return?

    They were still wondering, still gazing, when abruptly--as he did all
    things--Charles thrust back his chair.

    "Foucauld, you owe me ten pieces!" he cried with glee, and he slapped the
    table. "Pay, my friend; pay!"

    "To-morrow, little master; to-morrow!" Rochefoucauld answered in the same
    tone. And he rose to his feet.

    "To-morrow!" Charles repeated. "To-morrow?" And on the word his jaw
    fell. He looked wildly round. His face was ghastly.

    "Well, sire, and why not?" Rochefoucauld answered in astonishment. And
    in his turn he looked round, wondering; and a chill fell on him. "Why
    not?" he repeated.

    For a moment no one answered him: the silence in the Chamber was intense.
    Where he looked, wherever he looked, he met solemn, wondering eyes, such
    eyes as gaze on men in their coffins.

    "What has come to you all?" he cried, with an effort. "What is the jest,
    for faith, sire, I don't see it?"

    The King seemed incapable of speech, and it was Chicot who filled the
    gap.

    "It is pretty apparent," he said, with a rude laugh. "The cock will lay
    and Foucauld will pay--to-morrow!"

    The young nobleman's colour rose; between him and the Gascon gentleman
    was no love lost.

    "There are some debts I pay to-day," he cried haughtily. "For the rest,
    farewell my little master! When one does not understand the jest it is
    time to be gone."

    He was halfway to the door, watched by all, when the King spoke.

    "Foucauld!" he cried, in an odd, strangled voice. "Foucauld!" And the
    Huguenot favourite turned back, wondering. "One minute!" the King
    continued, in the same forced voice. "Stay till morning--in my closet.
    It is late now. We'll play away the rest of the night!"

    "Your Majesty must excuse me," Rochefoucauld answered frankly. "I am
    dead asleep."

    "You can sleep in the Garde-Robe," the King persisted.

    "Thank you for nothing, sire!" was the gay answer. "I know that bed! I
    shall sleep longer and better in my own."

    The King shuddered, but strove to hide the movement under a shrug of his
    shoulders. He turned away.

    "It is God's will!" he muttered. He was white to the lips.

    Rochefoucauld did not catch the words. "Good night, sire," he cried.
    "Farewell, little master." And with a nod here and there, he passed to
    the door, followed by Mergey and Chamont, two gentlemen of his suite.

    Nancay raised the curtain with an obsequious gesture. "Pardon me, M. le
    Comte," he said, "do you go to his Highness's?"

    "For a few minutes, Nancay."

    "Permit me to go with you. The guards may be set."

    "Do so, my friend," Rochefoucauld answered. "Ah, Tignonville, is it
    you?"

    "I am come to attend you to your lodging," the young man said. And he
    ranged up beside the other, as, the curtain fallen behind them, they
    walked along the gallery.

    Rochefoucauld stopped and laid his hand on Tignonville's sleeve.

    "Thanks, dear lad," he said, "but I am going to the Princess Dowager's.
    Afterwards to his Highness's. I may be detained an hour or more. You
    will not like to wait so long."

    M. de Tignonville's face fell ludicrously. "Well, no," he said. "I--I
    don't think I could wait so long--to-night."

    "Then come to-morrow night," Rochefoucauld answered, with good nature.

    "With pleasure," the other cried heartily, his relief evident.
    "Certainly. With pleasure." And, nodding good night, they parted.

    While Rochefoucauld, with Nancay at his side and his gentlemen attending
    him, passed along the echoing and now empty gallery, the younger man
    bounded down the stairs to the great hall of the Caryatides, his face
    radiant. He for one was not sleepy.
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