The weather was splendid, for love, war, or walking; and the sun gilded the roofs, on which the night dew was sparkling. The streets were dry, and the air delightful.
Before leaving the house, the young men had sent to the Hotel d'Anjou to inquire for Bussy, and had received a reply that he had gone out the evening before and had not yet returned.
"Oh!" said Antragues, "I know where he is; the king ordered a grand chase at Compiegne, and M. de Monsoreau was to set off yesterday. It is all right, gentlemen; he is nearer the ground than we are, and may be there before us. We will call for him in passing."
The streets were empty as they went along; no one was to be seen except peasants coming from Montreuil or Vincennes, with milk or vegetables.
The young men went on in silence until they reached the Rue St. Antoine.
Then, with a smile, they glanced at Monsoreau's house.
"One could see well from there, and I am sure poor Diana will be more than once at the window," said Antragues.
"I think she must be there already," said Ribeirac, "for the window is open."
"True, but what can be the meaning of that ladder before it?"
"It is odd."
"We are not the only ones to wonder," said Livarot, "see those peasants, who are stopping their carts to look."
The young men arrived under the balcony. "M. de Monsoreau," they cried, "do you intend to be present at our combat? if so, be quick, for we wish to arrive first."
They waited, but no one answered.
"Did you put up that ladder?" asked Antragues of a man who was examining the ground.
"God forbid!" replied he.
"Blood!" cried Ribeirac.
"The door has been forced," said Antragues; and seizing the ladder, he was on the balcony in a moment.
"What is it?" cried the others, seeing him turn pale.
A terrible cry was his only answer. Livarot mounted behind him. "Corpses! death everywhere!" cried he. And they both entered the room. It bore horrible traces of the terrible combat of the previous night. A river of blood flowed over the room; and the curtains were hanging in strips from sword cuts.
"Oh! poor Remy!" cried Antragues, suddenly.
"But a regiment of troopers must have passed through the room," cried Livarot. Then, seeing the door of the corridor open, and traces of blood indicating that one or more of the combatants had also passed through there, he followed it. Meanwhile, Antragues went into the adjoining room; there also blood was everywhere, and this blood led to the window. He leaned out and looked into the little garden. The iron spikes still held the livid corpse of the unhappy Bussy. At this sight, it was not a cry, but a yell, that Antragues uttered. Livarot ran to see what it was, and Ribeirac followed.
"Look!" said Antragues, "Bussy dead! Bussy assassinated and thrown out of window."
They ran down.
"It is he," cried Livarot.
"His wrist is cut."
"He has two balls in his breast."
"He is full of wounds."
"Ah! poor Bussy! we will have vengeance!"
Turning round they came against a second corpse.
"Monsoreau!" cried Livarot.
"What! Monsoreau also."
"Yes, pierced through and through."
"Ah! they have assassinated all our friends."
"And his wife? Madame de Monsoreau!" cried Antragues; but no one answered.
"Bussy, poor Bussy."
"Yes, they wished to get rid of the most formidable of us all."
"It is cowardly! it is infamous!"
"We will tell the duke."
"No," said Antragues, "let us not charge any one with the care of our vengeance. Look, my friends, at the noble face of the bravest of men; see his blood, that teaches that he never left his vengeance to any other person. Bussy! we will act like you, and we will avenge you."
Then, drawing his sword, he dipped it in Bussy's blood.
"Bussy," said he, "I swear on your corpse, that this blood shall be washed off by the blood of your enemies."
"Bussy," cried the others, "we swear to kill them or die."
"No mercy," said Antragues.
"But we shall be but three."
"True, but we have assassinated no one, and God will strengthen the innocent. Adieu, Bussy!"
"Adieu, Bussy!" repeated the others; and they went out, pale but resolute, from that cursed house, around which a crowd had begun to collect.
Arriving on the ground, they found their opponents waiting for them.
"Gentlemen," said Quelus, rising and bowing, "we have had the honor of waiting for you."
"Excuse us," said Antragues, "but we should have been here before you, but for one of our companions."
"M. de Bussy," said D'Epernon, "I do not see him. Where is he?"
"We can wait for him," said Schomberg.
"He will not come."
All looked thunderstruck; but D'Epernon exclaimed:
"Ah! the brave man par excellence—is he, then, afraid?"
"That cannot be," said Quelus.
"You are right, monsieur," said Livarot.
"And why will he not come?"
"Because he is dead."
"Dead!" cried they all, but D'Epernon turned rather pale.
"And dead because he has been assassinated," said Antragues. "Did you not know it, gentlemen?"
"No; how should we?"
"Besides, is it certain?"
Antragues drew his sword. "So certain that here is his blood," said he.
"M. de Bussy assassinated!"
"His blood cries for vengeance! do you not hear it, gentlemen?" said Ribeirac.
"What do you mean?"
"'Seek whom the crime profits,' the law says," replied Ribeirac.
"Ah! gentlemen, will you explain yourselves?" cried Maugiron.
"That is just what we have come for."
"Quick! our swords are in our hands!" said D'Epernon.
"Oh! you are in a great hurry, M. le Gascon; you did not crow so loud when we were four against four!"
"Is it our fault, if you are only three?"
"Yes, it is your fault; he is dead because you preferred him lying in his blood to standing here; he is dead, with his wrist cut, that that wrist might no longer hold a sword; he is dead, that you might not see the lightning of those eyes, which dazzled you all. Do you understand me? am I clear?"
"Enough, gentlemen!" said Quelus. "Retire, M. d'Epernon! we will fight three against three. These gentlemen shall see if we are men to profit by a misfortune which we deplore as much as themselves. Come, gentlemen," added the young mall, throwing his hat behind him, and raising his left hand, while he whirled his sword with the right, "God is our judge if we are assassins!"
"Ah! I hated you before," cried Schomberg, "and now I execrate you!"
"On your guard, gentlemen!" cried Antragues.
"With doublets or without?" said Schomberg.
"Without doublets, without shirts; our breasts bare, our hearts uncovered!"
The young men threw off their doublets and shirts.
"I have lost my dagger," said Quelus; "it must have fallen on the road."
"Or else you left it at M. de Monsoreau's, in the Place de la Bastile," said Antragues.
Quelus gave a cry of rage, and drew his sword.
"But he has no dagger, M. Antragues," cried Chicot, who had just arrived.
"So much the worse for him; it is not my fault," said Antragues.
The place where this terrible combat was to take place was sequestered and shaded by trees. It was generally frequented only by children, who came to play there during the day, or by drunkards or robbers, who made a sleeping-place of it by night.
Chicot, his heart palpitating, although he was not of a very tender nature, seated himself before the lackeys and pages, on a wooden balustrade.
He did not love the Angevins, and detested the minions, but they were all brave young men, and in their veins flowed a generous blood, which he was probably destined to see flow before long.
D'Epernon made a last bravado, "What! you are all afraid of me?" he cried.
"Hold your tongue," said Antragues.
"Come away, bravest of the brave," said Chicot, "or else you will lose another pair of shoes."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that there will soon be blood on the ground, and that you will walk in it, as you did last night."
D'Epernon became deadly pale, and, moving away, he seated himself at some distance from Chicot.
The combat began as five o'clock struck, and for a few minutes nothing was heard but the clashing of swords; not a blow was struck. At last Schomberg touched Ribeirac in the shoulder, and the blood gushed out; Schomberg tried to repeat the blow, but Ribeirac struck up his sword, and wounded him in the side.
"Now let us rest a few seconds, if you like," said Ribeirac.
Quelus, having no dagger, was at a great disadvantage; for he was obliged to parry with his left arm, and, as it was bare, on each occasion it cost him a wound. His hand was soon bleeding in several places, and Antragues had also wounded him in the breast; but at each wound he repeated, "It is nothing."
Livarot and Maugiron were still unwounded.
Ribeirac and Schomberg recommenced; the former was pierced through the breast, and Schomberg was wounded in the neck.
Ribeirac was mortally wounded, and Schomberg rushed on him and gave him another; but he, with his right hand, seized his opponent's, and with his left plunged his dagger into his heart.
Schomberg fell back, dragging Ribeirac with him. Livarot ran to aid Ribeirac to disengage himself from the grasp of his adversary, but was closely pursued by Maugiron, who cut open his head with a blow of his sword. Livarot let his sword drop, and fell on his knees; then Maugiron hastened to give him another wound, and he fell altogether.
Quelus and Maugiron remained against Antragues. Quelus was bleeding, but from slight wounds.
Antragues comprehended his danger; he had not the least wound, but he began to feel tired, so he pushed aside Quelus' sword and jumped over a barrier; but at the same moment, Maugiron attacked him behind; Antragues turned, and Quelus profited by this movement to get under the barrier.
"He is lost!" thought Chicot.
"Vive le roi!" cried D'Epernon.
"Silence, if you please, monsieur," said Antragues. At this instant Livarot, of whom no one was thinking, rose on his knees, hideous from the blood with which he was covered, and plunged his dagger between the shoulders of Maugiron, who fell, crying out, "Mon Dieu! I am killed!"
Livarot fell back again, fainting.
"M. de Quelus," said Antragues, "you are a brave man; yield—I offer you your life."
"And why yield?"
"You are wounded, and I am not."
"Vive le roi!" cried Quelus; "I have still my sword!" And he rushed on Antragues, who parried the thrust, and, seizing his arm, wrested his sword from him, saying, "Now you have it no longer."
"Oh, a sword!" cried Quelus; and, bounding like a tiger on Antragues, he threw his arms round him.
Antragues struck him with his dagger again and again, but Quelus managed to seize his hands, and twisted round him like a serpent, with arms and legs. Antragues, nearly suffocated, reeled and fell, but on the unfortunate Quelus. He managed to disengage himself, for Quelus' powers were failing him, and, leaning on one arm, gave him a last blow.
"Vive le r——" said Quelus, and that was all. The silence and terror of death reigned everywhere.
Antragues rose, covered with blood, but it was that of his enemy.
D'Epernon made the sign of the cross, and fled as if he were pursued by demons.
Chicot ran and raised Quelus, whose blood was pouring out from nineteen wounds.
The movement roused him, and he opened his eyes.
"Antragues," said he, "on my honor, I am innocent of the death of Bussy."
"Oh! I believe you, monsieur," cried Antragues, much moved.
"Fly!" murmured Quelus; "the king will never forgive you."
"I cannot abandon you thus, even to escape the scaffold."
"Save yourself, young man," said Chicot; "do not tempt Providence twice in one day."
Antragues approached Ribeirac, who still breathed.
"Well?" asked he.
"We are victors," said Antragues, in a low tone, not to offend Quelus.
"Thanks," said Ribeirac; "now go."
And he fainted again.
Antragues picked up his own sword, which he had dropped, then that of Quelus, which he presented to him. A tear shone in the eyes of the dying man. "We might have been friends," he murmured.
"Now fly," said Chicot; "you are worthy of being saved."
"And my companions?"
"I will take care of them, as of the king's friends."
Antragues wrapped himself in a cloak which his squire handed to him, so that no one might see the blood with which he was covered, and, leaving the dead and wounded, he disappeared through the Porte St. Antoine.
The king, pale with anxiety, and shuddering at the slightest noise, employed himself in conjecturing, with the experience of a practised man, the time that it would take for the antagonists to meet and that the combat would last.
"Now," he murmured first, "they are crossing the Rue St. Antoine—now they are entering the field—now they have begun." And at these words, the poor king, trembling, began to pray.
Rising again in a few minutes, he cried:
"If Quelus only remembers the thrust I taught him! As for Schomberg, he is so cool that he ought to kill Ribeirac; Maugiron, also, should be more than a match for Livarot. But D'Epernon, he is lost; fortunately he is the one of the four whom I love least. But if Bussy, the terrible Bussy, after killing him, falls on the others! Ah, my poor friends!"
"Sire!" said Crillon, at the door.
"Sire, I have no news but that the Duc d'Anjou begs to speak to your majesty."
"He says that the moment has come for him to tell you what service he rendered your majesty, and that what he has to tell you will calm a part of your fears."
"Well, let him come."
At this moment they heard a voice crying, "I must speak to the king at once!"
The king recognized the voice, and opened the door.
"Here, St. Luc!" cried he. "What is it? But, mon Dieu! what is the matter? Are they dead?"
Indeed, St. Luc, pale, without hat or sword, and spotted with blood, rushed into the king's room.
"Sire!" cried he, "vengeance! I ask for vengeance!"
"My poor St. Luc, what is it? You seem in despair."
"Sire, one of your subjects, the bravest, noblest, has been murdered this night—traitorously murdered!"
"Of whom do you speak?"
"Sire, you do not love him, I know; but he was faithful, and, if need were, would have shed all his blood for your majesty, else he would not have been my friend."
"Ah!" said the king, who began to understand; and something like a gleam of joy passed over his face.
"Vengeance, sire, for M. de Bussy!"
"M. de Bussy?"
"Yes, M. de Bussy, whom twenty assassins poniarded last night. He killed fourteen of them."
"M. de Bussy dead?"
"Then he does not fight this morning?"
St. Luc cast a reproachful glance on the king, who turned away his head, and, in doing so, saw Crillon still standing at the door. He signed to him to bring in the duke.
"No, sire, he will not fight," said St. Luc; "and that is why I ask, not for vengeance—I was wrong to call it so—but for justice. I love my king, and am, above all things, jealous of his honor, and I think that it is a deplorable service which they have rendered to your majesty by killing M. de Bussy."
The Duc d'Anjou had just entered, and St. Luc's words had enlightened the king as to the service his brother had boasted of having rendered him.
"Do you know what they will say?" continued St. Luc. "They will say, if your friends conquer, that it is because they first murdered Bussy."
"And who will dare to say that?"
"Pardieu! everyone," said Crillon.
"No, monsieur, they shall not say that," replied the king, "for you shall point out the assassin."
"I will name him, sire, to clear your majesty from so heinous an accusation," said St. Luc.
"Well! do it."
The Duc d'Anjou stood quietly by.
"Sire," continued St. Luc, "last night they laid a snare for Bussy, while he visited a woman who loved him; the husband, warned by a traitor, came to his house with a troop of assassins; they were everywhere—in the street—in the courtyard, even in the garden."
In spite of his power over himself, the duke grew pale at these last words.
"Bussy fought like a lion, sire, but numbers overwhelmed him, and—"
"And he was killed," interrupted the king, "and justly; I will certainly not revenge an adulterer."
"Sire, I have not finished my tale. The unhappy man, after having defended himself for more than half an hour in the room, after having triumphed over his enemies, escaped, bleeding, wounded, and mutilated: he only wanted some one to lend him a saving hand, which I would have done had I not been seized by his assassins, and bound, and gagged. Unfortunately, they forgot to take away my sight as well as my speech, for I saw two men approach the unlucky Bussy, who was hanging on the iron railings. I heard him entreat them for help, for in these two men he had the right to reckon on two friends. Well, sire, it is horrible to relate—it was still more horrible to see and hear—one ordered him to be shot, and the other obeyed."
"And you know the assassins?" cried the king, moved in spite of himself.
"Yes," said St. Luc, and turning to the prince, with an expression of intense hatred, he cried, "the assassin, sire, was the prince, his friend."
The duke stood perfectly quiet and answered, "Yes, M. de St. Luc is right; it was I, and your majesty will appreciate my action, for M. de Bussy was my servant; but this morning he was to fight against your majesty."
"You lie, assassin!" cried St. Luc. "Bussy, full of wounds, his hands cut to pieces, a ball through his shoulder, and hanging suspended on the iron trellis-work, might have inspired pity in his most cruel enemies; they would have succored him. But you, the murderer of La Mole and of Coconnas, you killed Bussy, as you have killed, one after another, all your friends. You killed Bussy, not because he was the king's enemy, but because he was the confidant of your secrets. Ah! Monsoreau knew well your reason for this crime."
"Cordieu!" cried Crillon, "why am I not king?"
"They insult me before you, brother," said the duke, pale with terror.
"Leave us, Crillon," said the king. The officer obeyed.
"Justice, sire, justice!" cried St. Luc again.
"Sire," said the duke, "will you punish me for having served your majesty's friends this morning?"
"And I," cried St. Luc, "I say that the cause which you espouse is accursed, and will be pursued by the anger of God. Sire, when your brother protects our friends, woe to them." The king shuddered.
Then they heard hasty steps and voices, followed by a deep silence; and then, as if a voice from heaven came to confirm St. Luc's words, three blows were struck slowly and solemnly on the door by the vigorous arm of Crillon. Henri turned deadly pale.
"Conquered," cried he; "my poor friends!"
"What did I tell you, sire?" cried St. Luc. "See how murder succeeds."
But the king saw nothing, heard nothing; he buried his face in his hands, and murmured. "Oh! my poor friends; who will tell me about them?"
"I, sire," said Chicot.—"Well!" cried Henri.
"Two are dead, and the third is dying."
"Which is the third?"—"Quelus."
"Where is he?"—"At the Hotel Boissy."
The king said no more, but rushed from the room.
St. Luc had taken Diana home to his wife, and this had kept him from appearing sooner at the Louvre. Jeanne passed three days and nights watching her through the most frightful delirium. On the fourth day, Jeaune, overcome by fatigue, went to take a little rest: two hours after, when she returned, Diana was gone.
Quelus died at the Hotel Boissy, in the king's arms, after lingering for thirty days.
Henri was inconsolable. He raised three magnificent tombs for his friends, on which their effigies were sculptured, life-size, in marble. He had innumerable masses said for them, and prayed for their souls himself night and morning. For three months Chicot never left his master. In September, Chicot received the following letter, dated from the Priory of Beaume:
"DEAR M. CHICOT—The air is soft in this place, and the vintage promises to be good this year. They say that the king, whose life I saved, still grieves much. Bring him to the priory, dear M. Chicot; we will give him wine of 1550, which I have discovered in my cellar, and which is enough to make one forget the greatest grief; for I find in the Holy Writ these words, 'Good wine rejoices the heart of man.' It is in Latin. I will show it you. Come, then, dear M. Chicot; come, with the king, M. d'Epernon, and M. de St. Luc, and we will fatten them all.
"The reverend prior, "DOM GORENFLOT, "Your humble servant and friend.
"P.S.—Tell the king that I have not yet had time to pray for the souls of his friends; but when the vintage is over; I shall not fail to do so."
"Amen," said Chicot; "here are poor devils well recommended to Heaven."