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Book 1 Chapter 3 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER III

THE GOOD PRIEST

     L'homme de paix me parla ainsi.--VICAIRE SAVOYARD.

Now that the diabolical procession is in the arena destined for its
spectacle, and is arranging its sanguinary representation, let us see
what Cinq-Mars had been doing amid the agitated throng. He was naturally
endowed with great tact, and he felt that it would be no easy matter for
him to attain his object of seeing the Abbe Quillet, at a time when
public excitement was at its height. He therefore remained on horseback
with his four servants in a small, dark street that led into the main
thoroughfare, whence he could see all that passed. No one at first paid
any attention to him; but when public curiosity had no other aliment, he
became an object of general interest. Weary of so many strange scenes,
the inhabitants looked upon him with some exasperation, and whispered to
one another, asking whether this was another exorcist come among them.
Feeling that it was time to take a decided course, he advanced with his
attendants, hat in hand, toward the group in black of whom we have
spoken, and addressing him who appeared its chief member, said,
"Monsieur, where can I find Monsieur l'Abbe Quillet?"

At this name, all regarded him with an air of terror, as if he had
pronounced that of Lucifer. Yet no anger was shown; on the contrary, it
seemed that the question had favorably changed for him the minds of all
who heard him. Moreover, chance had served him well in his choice; the
Comte du Lude came up to his horse, and saluting him, said, "Dismount,
Monsieur, and I will give you some useful information concerning him."

After speaking a while in whispers, the two gentlemen separated with all
the ceremonious courtesy of the time. Cinq-Mars remounted his black
horse, and passing through numerous narrow streets, was soon out of the
crowd with his retinue.

"How happy I am!" he soliloquized, as he went his way; "I shall, at all
events, for a moment see the good and kind clergyman who brought me up;
even now I recall his features, his calm air, his voice so full of
gentleness."

As these tender thoughts filled his mind, he found himself in the small,
dark street which had been indicated to him; it was so narrow that the
knee-pieces of his boots touched the wall on each side. At the end of the
street he came to a one-storied wooden house, and in his eagerness
knocked at the door with repeated strokes.

"Who is there?" cried a furious voice within; and at the same moment, the
door opening revealed a little short, fat man, with a very red face,
dressed in black, with a large white ruff, and riding-boots which
engulfed his short legs in their vast depths. In his hands were a pair of
horse-pistols.

"I will sell my life dearly!" he cried; "and--"

"Softly, Abbe, softly," said his pupil, taking his arm; "we are friends."

"Ah, my son, is it you?" said the good man, letting fall his pistols,
which were picked up by a domestic, also armed to the teeth. "What do you
here? The abomination has entered the town, and I only await the night to
depart. Make haste within, my dear boy, with your people. I took you for
the archers of Laubardemont, and, faith, I intended to take a part
somewhat out of my line. You see the horses in the courtyard there; they
will convey me to Italy, where I shall rejoin our friend, the Duc de
Bouillon. Jean! Jean! hasten and close the great gate after Monsieur's
domestics, and recommend them not to make too much noise, although for
that matter we have no habitation near us."

Grandchamp obeyed the intrepid little Abbe, who then embraced Cinq-Mars
four consecutive times, raising himself on the points of his boots, so as
to attain the middle of his pupil's breast. He then hurried him into a
small room, which looked like a deserted granary; and seating him beside
himself upon a black leather trunk, he said, warmly:

"Well, my son, whither go you? How came Madame la Marechale to allow you
to come here? Do you not see what they are doing against an unhappy man,
whose death alone will content them? Alas, merciful Heaven! is this the
first spectacle my dear pupil is to see? And you at that delightful
period of life when friendship, love, confidence, should alone encompass
you; when all around you should give you a favorable opinion of your
species, at your very entry into the great world! How unfortunate! alas,
why did you come?"

When the good Abbe had followed up this lamentation by pressing
affectionately both hands of the young traveller in his own, so red and
wrinkled, the latter answered:

"Can you not guess, my dear Abbe, that I came to Loudun because you are
here? As to the spectacle you speak of, it appears to me simply
ridiculous; and I swear that I do not a whit the less on its account love
that human race of which your virtues and your good lessons have given me
an excellent idea. As to the five or six mad women who--"

"Let us not lose time; I will explain to you all that matter; but answer
me, whither go you, and for what?"

"I am going to Perpignan, where the Cardinal-Duke is to present me to the
King."

At this the worthy but hasty Abbe rose from his box, and walked, or
rather ran, to and fro, stamping. "The Cardinal! the Cardinal!" he
repeated, almost choking, his face becoming scarlet, and the tears rising
to his eyes; "My poor child! they will destroy him! Ah, mon Dieu! what
part would they have him play there? What would they do with him? Ah, who
will protect thee, my son, in that dangerous place?" he continued,
reseating himself, and again taking his pupil's hands in his own with a
paternal solicitude, as he endeavored to read his thoughts in his
countenance.

"Why, I do not exactly know," said Cinq-Mars, looking up at the ceiling;
"but I suppose it will be the Cardinal de Richelieu, who was the friend
of my father."

"Ah, my dear Henri, you make me tremble; he will ruin you unless you
become his docile instrument. Alas, why can not I go with you? Why must I
act the young man of twenty in this unfortunate affair? Alas, I should be
perilous to you; I must, on the contrary, conceal myself. But you will
have Monsieur de Thou near you, my son, will you not?" said he, trying to
reassure himself; "he was your friend in childhood, though somewhat older
than yourself. Heed his counsels, my child, he is a wise young man of
mature reflection and solid ideas."

"Oh, yes, my dear Abbe, you may depend upon my tender attachment for him;
I never have ceased to love him."

"But you have ceased to write to him, have you not?" asked the good Abbe,
half smilingly.

"I beg your pardon, my dear Abbe, I wrote to him once, and again
yesterday, to inform him that the Cardinal has invited me to court."

"How! has he himself desired your presence?"

Cinq-Mars hereupon showed the letter of the Cardinal-Duke to his mother,
and his old preceptor grew gradually calmer.

"Ah, well!" said he to himself, "this is not so bad, perhaps, after all.
It looks promising; a captain of the guards at twenty--that sounds well!"
and the worthy Abbe's face became all smiles.

The young man, delighted to see these smiles, which so harmonized with
his own thoughts, fell upon the neck of the Abbe and embraced him, as if
the good man had thus assured to him a futurity of pleasure, glory, and
love.

But the good Abbe, with difficulty disengaging himself from this warm
embrace, resumed his walk, his reflections, and his gravity. He coughed
often and shook his head; and Cinq-Mars, not venturing to pursue the
conversation, watched him, and became sad as he saw him become serious.

The old man at last sat down, and in a mournful tone addressed his pupil:

"My friend, my son, I have for a moment yielded like a father to your
hopes; but I must tell you, and it is not to afflict you, that they
appear to me excessive and unnatural. If the Cardinal's sole aim were to
show attachment and gratitude toward your family, he would not have
carried his favors so far; no, the extreme probability is that he has
designs upon you. From what has been told him, he thinks you adapted to
play some part, as yet impossible for us to divine, but which he himself
has traced out in the deepest recesses of his mind. He wishes to educate
you for this; he wishes to drill you into it. Allow me the expression in
consideration of its accuracy, and think seriously of it when the time
shall come. But I am inclined to believe that, as matters are, you would
do well to follow up this vein in the great mine of State; in this way
high fortunes have begun. You must only take heed not to be blinded and
led at will. Let not favors dazzle you, my poor child, and let not
elevation turn your head. Be not so indignant at the suggestion; the
thing has happened to older men than yourself. Write to me often, as well
as to your mother; see Monsieur de Thou, and together we will try to keep
you in good counsel. Now, my son, be kind enough to close that window
through which the wind comes upon my head, and I will tell you what has
been going on here."

Henri, trusting that the moral part of the discourse was over, and
anticipating nothing in the second part but a narrative more or less
interesting, closed the old casement, festooned with cobwebs, and resumed
his seat without speaking.

"Now that I reflect further," continued the Abbe, "I think it will not
perhaps be unprofitable for you to have passed through this place,
although it be a sad experience you shall have acquired; but it will
supply what I may not have formerly told you of the wickedness of men. I
hope, moreover, that the result will not be fatal, and that the letter we
have written to the King will arrive in time."

"I heard that it had been intercepted," interposed Cinq-Mars.

"Then all is over," said the Abbe Quillet; "the Cure is lost. But listen.
God forbid, my son, that I, your old tutor, should seek to assail my own
work, and attempt to weaken your faith! Preserve ever and everywhere that
simple creed of which your noble family has given you the example, which
our fathers possessed in a still higher degree than we, and of which the
greatest captains of our time are not ashamed. Always, while you wear a
sword, remember that you hold it for the service of God. But at the same
time, when you are among men, avoid being deceived by the hypocrite. He
will encompass you, my son; he will assail you on the vulnerable side of
your ingenuous heart, in addressing your religion; and seeing the
extravagance of his affected zeal, you will fancy yourself lukewarm as
compared with him. You will think that your conscience cries out against
you; but it will not be the voice of conscience that you hear. And what
cries would not that conscience send forth, how fiercely would it not
rise upon you, did you contribute to the destruction of innocence by
invoking Heaven itself as a false witness against it?"

"Oh, my father! can such things be possible?" exclaimed Henri d'Effiat,
clasping his hands.

"It is but too true," continued the Abbe; "you saw a partial execution of
it this morning. God grant you may not witness still greater horrors! But
listen! whatever you may see, whatever crime they dare to commit, I
conjure you, in the name of your mother and of all that you hold dear,
say not a word; make not a gesture that may indicate any opinion
whatever. I know the impetuous character that you derive from the
Marechal, your father; curb it, or you are lost. These little ebullitions
of passion give but slight satisfaction, and bring about great
misfortunes. I have observed you give way to them too much. Oh, did you
but know the advantage that a calm temper gives one over men! The
ancients stamped it on the forehead of the divinity as his finest
attribute, since it shows that he is superior to our fears and to our
hopes, to our pleasures and to our pains. Therefore, my dear child,
remain passive in the scenes you are about to witness; but see them you
must. Be present at this sad trial; for me, I must suffer the
consequences of my schoolboy folly. I will relate it to you; it will
prove to you that with a bald head one may be as much a child as with
your fine chestnut curls."

And the excellent old Abbe, taking his pupil's head affectionately
between his hands, continued:

"Like other people, my dear son, I was curious to see the devils of the
Ursulines; and knowing that they professed to speak all languages, I was
so imprudent as to cease speaking Latin and to question them in Greek.
The Superior is very pretty, but she does not know Greek! Duncan, the
physician, observed aloud that it was surprising that the demon, who knew
everything, should commit barbarisms and solecisms in Latin, and not be
able to answer in Greek. The young Superior, who was then upon her bed,
turned toward the wall to weep, and said in an undertone to Father Barre,
'I can not go on with this, father.' I repeated her words aloud, and
infuriated all the exorcists; they cried out that I ought to know that
there are demons more ignorant than peasants, and said that as to their
power and physical strength, it could not be doubted, since the spirits
named Gresil des Trones, Aman des Puissance, and Asmodeus, had promised
to carry off the calotte of Monsieur de Laubardemont. They were preparing
for this, when the physician Duncan, a learned and upright man, but
somewhat of a scoffer, took it into his head to pull a cord he discovered
fastened to a column like a bell-rope, and which hung down just close to
the referendary's head; whereupon they called him a Huguenot, and I am
satisfied that if Marechal de Breze were not his protector, it would have
gone ill with him. The Comte du Lude then came forward with his customary
'sang-froid', and begged the exorcists to perform before him. Father
Lactantius, the Capuchin with the dark visage and hard look, proceeded
with Sister Agnes and Sister Claire; he raised both his hands, looking at
them as a serpent would look at two dogs, and cried in a terrible voice,
'Quis to misit, Diabole?' and the two sisters answered, as with one
voice, 'Urbanus.' He was about to continue, when Monsieur du Lude, taking
out of his pocket, with an air of veneration, a small gold box, said that
he had in it a relic left by his ancestors, and that though not doubting
the fact of the possession, he wished to test it. Father Lactantius
seized the box with delight, and hardly had he touched the foreheads of
the two sisters with it when they made great leaps and twisted about
their hands and feet. Lactantius shouted forth his exorcisms; Barre threw
himself upon his knees with all the old women; and Mignon and the judges
applauded. The impassible Laubardemont made the sign of the cross,
without being struck dead for it! When Monsieur du Lude took back his box
the nuns became still. 'I think,' said Lactantius, insolently, 'that--you
will not question your relics now.' 'No more than I do the possession,'
answered Monsieur du Lude, opening his box and showing that it was empty.
'Monsieur, you mock us,' said Lactantius. I was indignant at these
mummeries, and said to him, 'Yes, Monsieur, as you mock God and men.' And
this, my dear friend, is the reason why you see me in my seven-league
boots, so heavy that they hurt my legs, and with pistols; for our friend
Laubardemont has ordered my person to be seized, and I don't choose it to
be seized, old as it is."

"What, is he so powerful, then?" cried Cinq-Mars.

"More so than is supposed--more so than could be believed. I know that
the possessed Abbess is his niece, and that he is provided with an order
in council directing him to judge, without being deterred by any appeals
lodged in Parliament, the Cardinal having prohibited the latter from
taking cognizance of the matter of Urbain Grandier."

"And what are his offences?" asked the young man, already deeply
interested.

"Those of a strong mind and of a great genius, an inflexible will which
has irritated power against him, and a profound passion which has driven
his heart and him to commit the only mortal sin with which I believe he
can be reproached; and it was only by violating the sanctity of his
private papers, which they tore from Jeanne d'Estievre, his mother, an
old woman of eighty, that they discovered his love for the beautiful
Madeleine de Brou. This girl had refused to marry, and wished to take the
veil. May that veil have concealed from her the spectacle of this day!
The eloquence of Grandier and his angelic beauty drove the women half
mad; they came miles and miles to hear him. I have seen them swoon during
his sermons; they declared him an angel, and touched his garment and
kissed his hands when he descended from the pulpit. It is certain that,
unless it be his beauty, nothing could equal the sublimity of his
discourses, ever full of inspiration. The pure honey of the gospel
combined on his lips with the flashing flame of the prophecies; and one
recognized in the sound of his voice a heart overflowing with holy pity
for the evils to which mankind are subject, and filled with tears, ready
to flow for us."

The good priest paused, for his own voice and eyes were filled with
tears; his round and naturally Joyous face was more touching than a
graver one under the same circumstances, for it seemed as if it bade
defiance to sadness. Cinq-Mars, even more moved, pressed his hand without
speaking, fearful of interrupting him. The Abbe took out a red
handkerchief, wiped his eyes, and continued:

"This is the second attack upon Urbain by his combined enemies. He had
already been accused of bewitching the nuns; but, examined by holy
prelates, by enlightened magistrates, and learned physicians, he was
immediately acquitted, and the judges indignantly imposed silence upon
these devils in human form. The good and pious Archbishop of Bordeaux,
who had himself chosen the examiners of these pretended exorcists, drove
the prophets away and shut up their hell. But, humiliated by the
publicity of the result, annoyed at seeing Grandier kindly received by
our good King when he threw himself at his feet at Paris, they saw that
if he triumphed they were lost, and would be universally regarded as
impostors. Already the convent of the Ursulines was looked upon only as a
theatre for disgraceful comedies, and the nuns themselves as shameless
actresses. More than a hundred persons, furious against the Cure, had
compromised themselves in the hope of destroying him. Their plot, instead
of being abandoned, has gained strength by its first check; and here are
the means that have been set to work by his implacable enemies.

"Do you know a man called 'L'Eminence Grise', that formidable Capuchin
whom the Cardinal employs in all things, consults upon some, and always
despises? It was to him that the Capuchins of Loudun addressed
themselves. A woman of this place, of low birth, named Hamon, having been
so fortunate as to please the Queen when she passed through Loudun, was
taken into her service. You know the hatred that separates her court from
that of the Cardinal; you know that Anne of Austria and Monsieur de
Richelieu have for some time disputed for the King's favor, and that, of
her two suns, France never knew in the evening which would rise next
morning. During a temporary eclipse of the Cardinal, a satire appeared,
issuing from the planetary system of the Queen; it was called, 'La
cordonniere de la seine-mere'. Its tone and language were vulgar; but it
contained things so insulting about the birth and person of the Cardinal
that the enemies of the minister took it up and gave it a publicity which
irritated him. It revealed, it is said, many intrigues and mysteries
which he had deemed impenetrable. He read this anonymous work, and
desired to know its author. It was just at this time that the Capuchins
of this town wrote to Father Joseph that a constant correspondence
between Grandier and La Hamon left no doubt in their minds as to his
being the author of this diatribe. It was in vain that he had previously
published religious books, prayers, and meditations, the style of which
alone ought to have absolved him from having put his hand to a libel
written in the language of the marketplace; the Cardinal, long since
prejudiced against Urbain, was determined to fix upon him as the culprit.
He remembered that when he was only prior of Coussay, Grandier disputed
precedence with him and gained it; I fear this achievement of precedence
in life will make poor Grandier precede the Cardinal in death also."

A melancholy smile played upon the lips of the good Abbe as he uttered
this involuntary pun.

"What! do you think this matter will go so far as death?"

"Ay, my son, even to death; they have already taken away all the
documents connected with his former absolution that might have served for
his defence, despite the opposition of his poor mother, who preserved
them as her son's license to live. Even now they affect to regard a work
against the celibacy of priests, found among his papers, as destined to
propagate schism. It is a culpable production, doubtless, and the love
which dictated it, however pure it may be, is an enormous sin in a man
consecrated to God alone; but this poor priest was far from wishing to
encourage heresy, and it was simply, they say, to appease the remorse of
Mademoiselle de Brou that he composed the work. It was so evident that
his real faults would not suffice to condemn him to death that they have
revived the accusation of sorcery, long since disposed of; but, feigning
to believe this, the Cardinal has established a new tribunal in this
town, and has placed Laubardemont at its head, a sure sign of death.
Heaven grant that you never become acquainted with what the corruption of
governments call coups-d'etat!"

At this moment a terrible shriek sounded from beyond the wall of the
courtyard; the Abbe arose in terror, as did Cinq-Mars.

"It is the cry of a woman," said the old man.

"'Tis heartrending!" exclaimed Cinq-Mars. "What is it?" he asked his
people, who had all rushed out into the courtyard.

They answered that they heard nothing further.

"Well, well," said the Abbe, "make no noise." He then shut the window,
and put his hands before his eyes.

"Ah, what a cry was that, my son!" he said, with his face of an ashy
paleness--"what a cry! It pierced my very soul; some calamity has
happened. Ah, holy Virgin! it has so agitated me that I can talk with you
no more. Why did I hear it, just as I was speaking to you of your future
career? My dear child, may God bless you! Kneel!"

Cinq-Mars did as he was desired, and knew by a kiss upon his head that he
had been blessed by the old man, who then raised him, saying:

"Go, my son, the time is advancing; they might find you with me. Go,
leave your people and horses here; wrap yourself in a cloak, and go; I
have much to write ere the hour when darkness shall allow me to depart
for Italy."

They embraced once more, promising to write to each other, and Henri
quitted the house. The Abby, still following him with his eyes from the
window, cried:

"Be prudent, whatever may happen," and sent him with his hands one more
paternal blessing, saying, "Poor child! poor child!"