Monsieur had given his orders. The musketeers, led by their officer, took possession of the little passage by which one wing of the castle communicates with the other. This passage was commenced by a small square ante-chamber, dark even in the finest days. Monsieur stopped Louis XIV.
“You are passing now, sire,” said he, “the very spot where the Duc de Guise received the first stab of the poniard.”
The king was ignorant of all historical matters; he had heard of the fact, but he knew nothing of the localities or the details.
“Ah!” said he with a shudder.
And he stopped. The rest, both behind and before him, stopped likewise.
“The duc, sire,” continued Gaston, “was nearly were I stand: he was walking in the same direction as your majesty; M. de Loignac was exactly where your lieutenant of musketeers is; M. de Saint-Maline and his majesty’s ordinaries were behind him and around him. It was here that he was struck.”
The king turned towards his officer, and saw something like a cloud pass over his martial and daring countenance.
“Yes, from behind!” murmured the lieutenant, with a gesture of supreme disdain. And he endeavored to resume the march, as if ill at ease at being between walls formerly defiled by treachery.
But the king, who appeared to wish to be informed, was disposed to give another look at this dismal spot.
Gaston perceived his nephew’s desire.
“Look, sire,” said he, taking a flambeaux from the hands of M. de Saint-Remy, “this is where he fell. There was a bed there, the curtains of which he tore with catching at them.”
“Why does the floor seem hollowed out at this spot?” asked Louis.
“Because it was here the blood flowed,” replied Gaston; “the blood penetrated deeply into the oak, and it was only by cutting it out that they succeeded in making it disappear. And even then,” added Gaston, pointing the flambeaux to the spot, “even then this red stain resisted all the attempts made to destroy it.”
Louis XIV. raised his head. Perhaps he was thinking of that bloody trace that had once been shown him at the Louvre, and which, as a pendant to that of Blois, had been made there one day by the king his father with the blood of Concini.
“Let us go on,” said he.
The march was resumed promptly; for emotion, no doubt, had given to the voice of the young prince a tone of command which was not customary with him. When he arrived at the apartment destined for the king, which communicated not only with the little passage we have passed through, but further with the great staircase leading to the court, —
“Will your majesty,” said Gaston, “condescend to occupy this apartment, all unworthy as it is to receive you?”
“Uncle,” replied the young king, “I render you my thanks for your cordial hospitality.”
Gaston bowed to his nephew, embraced him, and then went out.