Alfred de Vigny.

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CINQ MARS

By ALFRED DE VIGNY


BOOK 5.


CHAPTER XVIII

THE SECRET

De Thou had reached home with his friend; his doors were carefully shut,
and orders given to admit no one, and to excuse him to the refugees for
allowing them to depart without seeing them again; and as yet the two
friends had not spoken to each other.

The counsellor had thrown himself into his armchair in deep meditation.
Cinq-Mars, leaning against the lofty chimneypiece, awaited with a serious
and sorrowful air the termination of this silence. At length De Thou,
looking fixedly at him and crossing his arms, said in a hollow and
melancholy voice:

"This, then, is the goal you have reached! These, the consequences of
your ambition! You are are about to banish, perhaps slay, a man, and to
bring then, a foreign army into France; I am, then, to see you an
assassin and a traitor to your country! By what tortuous paths have you
arrived thus far? By what stages have you descended so low?"

"Any other than yourself would not speak thus to me twice," said Cinq-
Mars, coldly; "but I know you, and I like this explanation. I desired
it, and sought it. You shall see my entire soul. I had at first another
thought, a better one perhaps, more worthy of our friendship, more worthy
of friendship - friendship, the second thing upon earth."

He raised his eyes to heaven as he spoke, as if he there sought the
divinity.

"Yes, it would have been better. I intended to have said nothing to you
on the subject. It was a painful task to keep silence; but hitherto I
have succeeded. I wished to have conducted the whole enterprise without
you; to show you only the finished work. I wished to keep you beyond the
circle of my danger; but shall I confess my weakness? I feared to die,
if I have to die, misjudged by you. I can well sustain the idea of the
world's malediction, but not of yours; but this has decided me upon
avowing all to you."

"What! and but for this thought, you would have had the courage to
conceal yourself forever from me? Ah, dear Henri, what have I done that
you should take this care of my life? By what fault have I deserved to
survive you, if you die? You have had the strength of mind to hoodwink
me for two whole years; you have never shown me aught of your life but
its flowers; you have never entered my solitude but with a joyous
countenance, and each time with a fresh favor. Ah, you must be very
guilty or very virtuous!"

"Do not seek in my soul more than therein lies. Yes, I have deceived
you; and that fact was the only peace and joy I had in the world.
Forgive me for having stolen these moments from my destiny, so brilliant,
alas! I was happy in the happiness you supposed me to enjoy; I made you
happy in that dream, and I am only guilty in that I am now about to
destroy it, and to show myself as I was and am. Listen: I shall not
detain you long; the story of an impassioned heart is ever simple. Once
before, I remember, in my tent when I was wounded, my secret nearly
escaped me; it would have been happy, perhaps, had it done so. Yet what
would counsel have availed me? I should not have followed it. In a
word, 'tis Marie de Mantua whom I love."

"How! she who is to be Queen of Poland?"

"If she is ever queen, it can only be after my death. But listen: for
her I became a courtier; for her I have almost reigned in France; for her
I am about to fall - perhaps to die."

"Die! fall! when I have been reproaching your triumph! when I have
wept over the sadness of your victory!"

"Ah! you know me but ill, if you suppose that I shall be the dupe of
Fortune, when she smiles upon me; if you suppose that I have not pierced
to the bottom of my destiny! I struggle against it, but 'tis the
stronger I feel it. I have undertaken a task beyond human power; and I
shall fail in it."

"Why, then, not stop? What is the use of intellect in the business of
the world?"

"None; unless, indeed, it be to tell us the cause of our fall, and to
enable us to foresee the day on which we shall fall. I can not now
recede. When a man is confronted with such an enemy as Richelieu, he
must overcome him or be crushed by him. Tomorrow I shall strike the last
blow; did I not just now, in your presence, engage to do so?"

"And it is that very engagement that I would oppose. What confidence
have you in those to whom you thus abandon your life? Have you not read
their secret thoughts?"

"I know them all; I have read their hopes through their feigned rage;
I know that they tremble while they threaten. I know that even now they
are ready to make their peace by giving me up; but it is my part to
sustain them and to decide the King. I must do it, for Marie is my
betrothed, and my death is written at Narbonne. It is voluntarily, it is
with full knowledge of my fate, that I have thus placed myself between
the block and supreme happiness. That happiness I must tear from the
hands of Fortune, or die on that scaffold. At this instant I experience
the joy of having broken down all doubt. What! blush you not at having
thought me ambitious from a base egoism, like this Cardinal - ambitious
from a puerile desire for a power which is never satisfied? I am
ambitious, but it is because I love. Yes, I love; in that word all is
comprised. But I accuse you unjustly. You have embellished my secret
intentions; you have imparted to me noble designs (I remember them), high
political conceptions. They are brilliant, they are grand, doubtless;
but - shall I say it to you? - such vague projects for the perfecting of
corrupt societies seem to me to crawl far below the devotion of love.
When the whole soul vibrates with that one thought, it has no room for
the nice calculation of general interests; the topmost heights of earth
are far beneath heaven."

De Thou shook his head.

"What can I answer?" he said. "I do not understand you; your reasoning
unreasons you. You hunt a shadow."

"Nay," continued Cinq-Mars; "far from destroying my strength, this inward
fire has developed it. I have calculated everything. Slow steps have
led me to the end which I am about to attain. Marie drew me by the hand;
could I retreat? I would not have done it though a world faced me.
Hitherto, all has gone well; but an invisible barrier arrests me. This
barrier must be broken; it is Richelieu. But now in your presence I
undertook to do this; but perhaps I was too hasty. I now think I was so.
Let him rejoice; he expected me. Doubtless he foresaw that it would be
the youngest whose patience would first fail. If he played on this
calculation, he played well. Yet but for the love that has urged me on,
I should have been stronger than he, and by just means."

Then a sudden change came over the face of Cinq-Mars. He turned pale and
red twice; and the veins of his forehead rose like blue lines drawn by an
invisible hand.

"Yes," he added, rising, and clasping together his hands with a force
which indicated the violent despair concentred in his heart, "all the
torments with which love can tear its victims I have felt in my breast.
This timid girl, for whom I would shake empires, for whom I have suffered
all, even the favor of a prince, who perhaps has not felt all I have done
for her, can not yet be mine. She is mine before God, yet I am estranged
from her; nay, I must hear daily discussed before me which of the thrones
of Europe will best suit her, in conversations wherein I may not even
raise my voice to give an opinion, and in which they scorn as mate for
her princes of the blood royal, who yet have precedence far before me.
I must conceal myself like a culprit to hear through a grating the voice
of her who is my wife; in public I must bow before her - her husband,
yet her servant! 'Tis too much; I can not live thus. I must take the
last step, whether it elevate me or hurl me down."

"And for your personal happiness you would overthrow a State?"

"The happiness of the State is one with mine. I secure that undoubtedly
in destroying the tyrant of the King. The horror with which this man
inspires me has passed into my very blood. When I was first on my way to
him, I encountered in my journey his greatest crime. He is the genius of
evil for the unhappy King! I will exorcise him. I might have become the
genius of good for Louis XIII. It was one of the thoughts of Marie, her
most cherished thought. But I do not think I shall triumph in the uneasy
soul of the Prince."

"Upon what do you rely, then?" said De Thou.

"Upon the cast of a die. If his will can but once last for a few hours,
I have gained. 'Tis a last calculation on which my destiny hangs."

"And that of your Marie!"

"Could you suppose it?" said Cinq-Mars, impetuously. "No, no! If he
abandons me, I sign the treaty with Spain, and then-war!"

"Ah, horror!" exclaimed the counsellor. "What, a war! a civil war, and
a foreign alliance!"

"Ay, 'tis a crime," said Cinq-Mars, coldly; "but have I asked you to
participate in it?"

"Cruel, ungrateful man!" replied his friend; "can you speak to me thus?
Know you not, have I not proved to you, that friendship holds the place
of every passion in my heart? Can I survive the least of your
misfortunes, far less your death. Still, let me influence you not to
strike France. Oh, my friend! my only friend! I implore you on my
knees, let us not thus be parricides; let us not assassinate our country!
I say us, because I will never separate myself from your actions.
Preserve to me my self-esteem, for which I have labored so long; sully
not my life and my death, which are both yours."

De Thou had fallen at the feet of his friend, who, unable to preserve his
affected coldness, threw himself into his arms, as he raised him, and,
pressing him to his heart, said in a stifled voice:

"Why love me thus? What have you done, friend? Why love me? You who
are wise, pure, and virtuous; you who are not led away by an insensate
passion and the desire for vengeance; you whose soul is nourished only by
religion and science - why love me? What has my friendship given you but
anxiety and pain? Must it now heap dangers on you? Separate yourself
from me; we are no longer of the same nature. You see courts have
corrupted me. I have no longer openness, no longer goodness. I meditate
the ruin of a man; I can deceive a friend. Forget me, scorn me. I am
not worthy of one of your thoughts; how should I be worthy of your
perils?"

"By swearing to me not to betray the King and France," answered De Thou.
"Know you that the preservation of your country is at stake; that if you
yield to Spain our fortifications, she will never return them to us; that
your name will be a byword with posterity; that French mothers will curse
it when they shall be forced to teach their children a foreign language -
know you all this? Come."

And he drew him toward the bust of Louis XIII.

"Swear before him (he is your friend also), swear never to sign this
infamous treaty."

Cinq-Mars lowered his eyes, but with dogged tenacity answered, although
blushing as he did so:

"I have said it; if they force me to it, I will sign."

De Thou turned pale, and let fall his hand. He took two turns in his
room, his arms crossed, in inexpressible anguish. At last he advanced
solemnly toward the bust of his father, and opened a large book standing
at its foot; he turned to a page already marked, and read aloud:

"I think, therefore, that M. de Ligneboeuf was justly condemned to death
by the Parliament of Rouen, for not having revealed the conspiracy of
Catteville against the State."

Then keeping the book respectfully opened in his hand, and contemplating
the image of the President de Thou, whose Memoirs he held, he continued:

"Yes, my father, you thought well.... I shall be a criminal, I shall
merit death; but can I do otherwise? I will not denounce this traitor,
because that also would be treason; and he is my friend, and he is
unhappy."

Then, advancing toward Cinq-Mars, and again taking his hand, he said:

"I do much for you in acting thus; but expect nothing further from me,
Monsieur, if you sign this treaty."

Cinq-Mars was moved to the heart's core by this scene, for he felt all
that his friend must suffer in casting him off. Checking, however, the
tears which were rising to his smarting lids, and embracing De Thou
tenderly, he exclaimed:

"Ah, De Thou, I find you still perfect. Yes, you do me a service in
alienating yourself from me, for if your lot had been linked to mine,
I should not have dared to dispose of my life. I should have hesitated
to sacrifice it in case of need; but now I shall assuredly do so. And I
repeat to you, if they force me, I shall sign the treaty with Spain."


CHAPTER XIX

THE HUNTING PARTY

Meanwhile the illness of Louis XIII threw France into the apprehension
which unsettled States ever feel on the approach of the death of princes.
Although Richelieu was the hub of the monarchy, he reigned only in the
name of Louis, though enveloped with the splendor of the name which he
had assumed. Absolute as he was over his master, Richelieu still feared
him; and this fear reassured the nation against his ambitious desires,
to which the King himself was the fixed barrier. But this prince dead,
what would the imperious minister do? Where would a man stop who had
already dared so much? Accustomed to wield the sceptre, who would prevent
him from still holding it, and from subscribing his name alone to laws
which he alone would dictate? These fears agitated all minds. The
people in vain looked throughout the kingdom for those pillars of the
nobility, at the feet of whom they had been wont to find shelter in
political storms. They now only saw their recent tombs. Parliament was
dumb; and men felt that nothing could be opposed to the monstrous growth
of the Cardinal's usurping power. No one was entirely deceived by the
affected sufferings of the minister. None was touched with that feigned
agony which had too often deceived the public hope; and distance nowhere
prevented the weight of the dreaded 'parvenu' from being felt.

The love of the people soon revived toward the son of Henri IV. They
hastened to the churches; they prayed, and even wept. Unfortunate
princes are always loved. The melancholy of Louis, and his mysterious
sorrow interested all France; still living, they already regretted him,
as if each man desired to be the depositary of his troubles ere he
carried away with him the grand mystery of what is suffered by men placed
so high that they can see nothing before them but their tomb.

The King, wishing to reassure the whole nation, announced the temporary
reestablishment of his health, and ordered the court to prepare for a
grand hunting party to be given at Chambord - a royal domain, whither his
brother, the Duc d'Orleans, prayed him to return.

This beautiful abode was the favorite retreat of Louis, doubtless
because, in harmony with his feelings, it combined grandeur with sadness.
He often passed whole months there, without seeing any one whatsoever,
incessantly reading and re-reading mysterious papers, writing unknown
documents, which he locked up in an iron coffer, of which he alone had
the key. He sometimes delighted in being served by a single domestic,
and thus so to forget himself by the absence of his suite as to live for
many days together like a poor man or an exiled citizen, loving to figure
to himself misery or persecution, in order the better to enjoy royalty
afterward. Another time he would be in a more entire solitude; and
having forbidden any human creature to approach him, clothed in the habit
of a monk, he would shut himself up in the vaulted chapel. There,
reading the life of Charles V, he would imagine himself at St. Just, and
chant over himself that mass for the dead which brought death upon the
head of the Spanish monarch.

But in the midst of these very chants and meditations his feeble mind was
pursued and distracted by contrary images. Never did life and the world
appear to him more fair than in such times of solitude among the tombs.
Between his eyes and the page which he endeavored to read passed
brilliant processions, victorious armies, or nations transported with
love. He saw himself powerful, combating, triumphant, adored; and if a
ray of the sun through the large windows fell upon him, suddenly rising
from the foot of the altar, he felt himself carried away by a thirst for
daylight and the open air, which led him from his gloomy retreat. But
returned to real life, he found there once more disgust and ennui, for
the first men he met recalled his power to his recollection by their
homage.

It was then that he believed in friendship, and summoned it to his side;
but scarcely was he certain of its possession than unconquerable scruples
suddenly seized upon his soul-scruples concerning a too powerful
attachment to the creature, turning him from the Creator, and frequently
inward reproaches for removing himself too much from the affairs of the
State. The object of his momentary affection then seemed to him a
despotic being, whose power drew him from his duties; but, unfortunately
for his favorites, he had not the strength of mind outwardly to manifest
toward them the resentment he felt, and thus to warn them of their
danger, but, continuing to caress them, he added by this constraint fuel
to the secret fire of his heart, and was impelled to an absolute hatred
of them. There were moments when he was capable of taking any measures
against them.

Cinq-Mars knew perfectly the weakness of that mind, which could not keep
firmly in any path, and the weakness of a heart which could neither
wholly love nor wholly hate. Thus, the position of favorite, the envy of
all France, the object of jealousy even on the part of the great
minister, was so precarious and so painful that, but for his love, he
would have burst his golden chains with greater joy than a galley-slave
feels when he sees the last ring that for two long years he has been
filing with a steel spring concealed in his mouth, fall to the earth.
This impatience to meet the fate he saw so near hastened the explosion of
that patiently prepared mine, as he had declared to his friend; but his
situation was that of a man who, placed by the side of the book of life,
should see hovering over it the hand which is to indite his damnation or
his salvation. He set out with Louis to Chambord, resolved to take the
first opportunity favorable to his design. It soon presented itself.

The very morning of the day appointed for the chase, the King sent word
to him that he was waiting for him on the Escalier du Lys. It may not,
perhaps, be out of place to speak of this astonishing construction.

Four leagues from Blois, and one league from the Loire, in a small and
deep valley, between marshy swamps and a forest of large holm-oaks,
far from any highroad, the traveller suddenly comes upon a royal, nay,
a magic castle. It might be said that, compelled by some wonderful lamp,
a genie of the East had carried it off during one of the "thousand and
one nights," and had brought it from the country of the sun to hide it in
the land of fogs and mist, for the dwelling of the mistress of a handsome
prince.

Hidden like a treasure; with its blue domes, its elegant minarets rising
from thick walls or shooting into the air, its long terraces overlooking
the wood, its light spires bending with the wind, its terraces everywhere
rising over its colonnades, one might there imagine one's self in the
kingdom of Bagdad or of Cashmir, did not the blackened walls, with their
covering of moss and ivy, and the pallid and melancholy hue of the sky,
denote a rainy climate. It was indeed a genius who raised this building;
but he came from Italy, and his name was Primaticcio. It was indeed a
handsome prince whose amours were concealed in it; but he was a king, and
he bore the name of Francois I. His salamander still spouts fire
everywhere about it. It sparkles in a thousand places on the arched
roofs, and multiplies the flames there like the stars of heaven; it
supports the capitals with burning crowns; it colors the windows with its
fires; it meanders up and down the secret staircases, and everywhere
seems to devour with its flaming glances the triple crescent of a
mysterious Diane - that Diane de Poitiers, twice a goddess and twice
adored in these voluptuous woods.

The base of this strange monument is like the monument itself, full of
elegance and mystery; there is a double staircase, which rises in two
interwoven spirals from the most remote foundations of the edifice up to
the highest points, and ends in a lantern or small lattice-work cabinet,
surmounted by a colossal fleur-de-lys, visible from a great distance.
Two men may ascend it at the same moment, without seeing each other.

This staircase alone seems like a little isolated temple. Like our
churches, it is sustained and protected by the arcades of its thin,
light, transparent, openwork wings. One would think the docile stone had
given itself to the finger of the architect; it seems, so to speak,
kneaded according to the slightest caprice of his imagination. One can
hardly conceive how the plans were traced, in what terms the orders were
explained to the workmen. The whole thing appears a transient thought,
a brilliant revery that at once assumed a durable form - -the realization
of a dream.

Cinq-Mars was slowly ascending the broad stairs which led him to the
King's presence, and stopping longer at each step, in proportion as he
approached him, either from disgust at the idea of seeing the Prince
whose daily complaints he had to hear, or thinking of what he was about
to do, when the sound of a guitar struck his ear. He recognized the
beloved instrument of Louis and his sad, feeble, and trembling voice
faintly reechoing from the vaulted ceiling. Louis seemed trying one of
those romances which he was wont to compose, and several times repeated
an incomplete strain with a trembling hand. The words could scarcely be
distinguished; all that Cinq-Mars heard were a few such as 'Abandon,
ennui de monde, et belle flamme.

The young favorite shrugged his shoulders as he listened.

"What new chagrin moves thee?" he said. "Come, let me again attempt to
read that chilled heart which thinks it needs something."

He entered the narrow cabinet.

Clothed in black, half reclining on a couch, his elbows resting upon
pillows, the Prince was languidly touching the chords of his guitar; he
ceased this when he saw the grand ecuyer enter, and, raising his large
eyes to him with an air of reproach, swayed his head to and fro for a
long time without speaking. Then in a plaintive but emphatic tone, he
said:

"What do I hear, Cinq-Mars? What do I hear of your conduct? How much
you do pain me by forgetting all my counsels! You have formed a guilty
intrigue; was it from you I was to expect such things - you whom I so
loved for your piety and virtue?"

Full of his political projects, Cinq-Mars thought himself discovered, and
could not help a momentary anxiety; but, perfectly master of himself, he
answered without hesitation:

"Yes, Sire; and I was about to declare it to you, for I am accustomed to
open my soul to you."

"Declare it to me!" exclaimed the King, turning red and white, as under
the shivering of a fever; "and you dare to contaminate my ears with these
horrible avowals, Monsieur, and to speak so calmly of your disorder! Go!
you deserve to be condemned to the galley, like Rondin; it is a crime of
high treason you have committed in your want of faith toward me. I had
rather you were a coiner, like the Marquis de Coucy, or at the head of
the Croquants, than do as you have done; you dishonor your family, and
the memory of the marechal your father."

Cinq-Mars, deeming himself wholly lost, put the best face he could upon
the matter, and said with an air of resignation:

"Well, then, Sire, send me to be judged and put to death; but spare me
your reproaches."

"Do you insult me, you petty country-squire?" answered Louis. "I know
very well that you have not incurred the penalty of death in the eyes of
men; but it is at the tribunal of God, Monsieur, that you will be
judged."

"Heavens, Sire!" replied the impetuous young man, whom the insulting
phrase of the King had offended, "why do you not allow me to return to
the province you so much despise, as I have sought to do a hundred times?
I will go there. I can not support the life I lead with you; an angel


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